Don’t let perfectionism keep you from getting started (or from finishing)

This is the first in a series of several articles I’ll be publishing on perfectionism and how it keeps us from doing what we most want to do, or from enjoying it when we do accomplish it!

I finished a first draft of my novel yesterday. I had to declare myself finished. This draft had been sitting for more than three years when I returned to it early this year.

I had a hard time starting the novel way back when because I wasn’t sure I had the “just right” story, and I wasn’t sure I had the “just right” point of view (I even wrote 200 pages of it in third person and then rewrote it all in first, which, if you write fiction, you know is a lot harder than just changing “she” to “I”). I kept rehashing and rewriting these 200 pages, polishing scenes, cutting scenes and creating new ones, changing the order. At one point I went back to third person and wrote from multiple points of view. Then I went back to first.

At some point, I realized I needed to make some choices, stick with them, and continue — even if the draft wasn’t exactly the way I envisioned it.

So I did. And as I finally neared the end of my draft this week, everything felt bittersweet. I didn’t want to say goodbye to the writing of it (generating the writing is my favorite part; I like editing and rewriting much less). But mostly, I wanted to feel I had the best possible ending. I wanted to feel like, wow! This ending rocks. (That was how I felt when I finished the first draft of my other novel, a few months ago, which you can read about here.) I’d venture to say we all want that from our endings, and our readers, of course, want that too.

But this was a first draft, and at some point, I realized I needed to call it enough. As Anne Lamott tells us, it’s totally okay for first drafts to be shitty. My friend and mentor Jenna Avery said, “How about calling it enough for now?”

Yep. “Enough for now” felt exactly right.

Those of us who tend to be perfectionists can forget the concepts of “enough” and “for now.” We want it to be right, we want it to be brilliant, we want it to be perfect. Only the thing is, in wanting that so badly, we often don’t actually do our work, don’t get it to those who can benefit from it and appreciate it, because we don’t get started, or we don’t ever allow ourselves to finish.

A first draft is just that. It’s something rough, something messy, something that takes chances and probably contains lots of mistakes.

That is good. What if we could apply a “first draft” mentality not only to our first drafts of our writing, but to our lives? I know I love the things I love in part because they are messy, and rough around the edges, and imperfect. Not because they’re polished to a high shine, but because they move me, in all their imperfection.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with starting and finishing. What helps you begin something you’re afraid of, and what helps you say I’m done, for now?

Also: Today, May 10, is the last day to register for Jenna Avery’s Just Do the Writing Accountability Circle. It’s through my participation in this group that I’ve now completed drafts of two novels. (I’m also one of the coaches.) If you can’t seem to get started on something you’d love to create, or you’ve gotten stuck, check it out here!

And: I have a couple of spots open for new one-on-one coaching clients. Find out more here.