I have been writing fiction since 2003. Well, I’ve been writing fiction longer, but I didn’t start sending it out for publication until 2003. I made my first paid sale that year when I sold the story “Lost and Found” to an e-zine called Alien Skin. Unfortunately, the e-zine is long gone. But I’ve continued to write short stories and novels ever since.
What I didn’t realize was that except for some small pieces, I was writing stuff and leaving it on my hard drive.
But then my husband gave me a small slip of paper to hang on the wall next to my computer. It says:
The trap I had fallen into was that, even though I was prolific but not really getting anywhere. Then it became even worse. I wrote close to 70k words last NaNoWriMo which I haven’t been able to focus on editing. Between the necessity of the job hunt and the distractions cause by the pandemic, my attempts at making my stories perfect has lead to a lot of burnout and frustration with my writing.
My level of output has gone down drastically over the past few weeks since the lock-down started. I worry about my mother, my husband, and my son. I worry that I won’t get a job before we run out of savings and my unemployment benefits expire.
When I read stories and articles I had written, all I saw was bad writing. The flaws were overwhelming and I couldn’t focus on anything else. Editing became impossible. It didn’t help that every story I’ve submitted since January of 2019 was rejected.
My home office looks as though someone tried to combine an office supply store, with Hollywood Video and a library. I tell everybody that I am “too busy working” to do anything else. I sit by the hour in front of my computer and pick over the same few paragraphs. No matter how long I worked on a piece, I was never satisfied that it was good enough to send out.
My husband is astute enough to recognize the trap I had fallen into. That little slip of paper is a reminder that the only way to write something good is to get it out of my head and onto the page. So that is my new plan. Before I became aware of it, I had taken the old adage, “If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right,” and added the unspoken clause, “and if you can’t do it perfectly, don’t do it at all.” My standards were so high that there is no way I can even approach them, much less reach them.
The day that my husband gave me the paper, I threw out my internal rulebook and replaced it with two much simpler rules:
First, no more endless polishing. I set a limit on how long I could work on a piece before I either sent it out or put it away for some future time.
Second, in addition to the larger projects I’m working on, I have to write one small piece every week and send it out. Doesn’t matter what it is. It can be flash fiction, a blog post, or a poem. I polish as well as I can and then send it out. Once it has been submitted, I start work on the next piece.
My new motto is “Production, not perfection.”
We’ll see that that goes. From what I can see, the only way to go now is up.