January 12, 2017 in Dag

Getting it right, and then getting it right, and then getting it right again

I’m a  perfectionist. I’ve always been a perfectionist. Getting things 100% right is a really important thing for me. So important I’m always prepared to go the extra mile. So important it’s often a cause of significant hours of lost sleep.

As a writer, being a perfectionist is both a virtue and a curse. It’s a virtue because it means I’m only prepared to put my stories out into the world when I’m totally convinced they’re as good as they can possibly be. It’s a curse for pretty much the same reason.

It begins with the basic writing of the story. I know that a first draft is meant to be rough. I know it’s only meant to be a first try – basically a regurgitation of ideas onto the page. Still, I’m constantly going back to fix and edit and rework, even though I’m only halfway through. I know that’s one of the big no-nos of first drafting but I just can’t help myself. It has to the best, most perfect first draft that has ever been written by anyone.

Then comes the tortuous process of redrafting. After each rewrite, I know that I’ve created the most perfect draft that has ever been drafted. Then I go back to redraft again, and of course I find that the previous version is far from perfect and I’m basically back at the drawing board.

Finally, the MS is complete (after who knows how many rewrites). It’s brilliant. It’s perfect. It’s the finest, purest, most error-free piece of writing that has ever been produced. Only one thing to do know. Hand it over to a (gasp) editor, wait a few months, and see what I get back.

That’s when I get the biggest shock in my life. It wasn’t perfect at all. In fact, it’s quite horrific to realise how not perfect it was. There were multiple mistakes and errors and corrections on every page. How could I have been so delusional?

It’s ok, I can manage this. I can finally make it perfect. It takes a bit of work but eventually I’ve addressed all the editor’s comments and my masterpiece is once again flawless. So what do I do? I send it back to the editor again. And what do they do? They pull my perfect manuscript apart, again. And then again and again after that.

Finally, the editing is done. It’s taken a lot of work and a lot of back-and-forwards but my goal is achieved. My story is perfect at last. So what do I do next? I give it to a proofreader. I think you can probably see where this is going.

It’s great to aim for perfection. It’s great to try to make things as good as they can possibly be. It’s also a pain in the proverbial, a cause of great angst and sleepless nights.

Still, I get there in the end. After all that help and all that work, I finally decide my story is ready for the world and I hit publish. It’s out there. I’m happy. I know my story couldn’t possibly be in better shape than it is at that moment.

As long as I don’t open it up and take another look…

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