Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Practice Makes Perfect

The age old adage is true for just about anything new you’re learning to do. Playing the piano, driving a car, cooking, beating the last level of a video game – if you practice long enough, you will eventually be able to not only achieve your goal, but get the steps down to perfection.

With enough practice, you can play a song on the piano flawlessly. You can cook a meal without burning anything that also tastes good. You can drive a car without hitting anything (or scaring anyone). All it takes is practice, and you will eventually do it perfectly.

Alas, this is not true of writing. I don’t care if you’re Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or Frank Peretti, you’re not going to write a perfect book your first time through. Even if you’ve written a hundred different books, even if you’ve been published many times, and even if you know the story you’re about to pen like the back of your hand – the first draft will not be perfect. Even the authors who write best sellers every time will not write perfect drafts.


There is no such thing as a perfect draft. A draft indicates it is not done. And even when you possess a full length manuscript, alas, that isn’t perfect, either.

For whatever reason, first drafts will be full of mistakes. Whether you’re the kind of writer that corrects typos as they go or saves them all for after the pressures of the novel are over, you will still have errors. There will be big errors (oops, I never mentioned that character again) and small errors (their, not there). And silly errors (whoops, I meant the home country there, not the enemy country). It happens. There will be time to fix your errors. Lots of time. Trust me.

But don’t worry about that now (unless you’re one of the writers who can’t go on unless you fix the error in your third paragraph. Then by all means, fix it). Your goal in writing this novel is not to achieve perfection.

This is not learning the piano, singing a song, riding a bike, cooking a meal, or driving a car. You are writing a book. There is nothing like it. No matter how many times you’ve done it before, you will always make some mistakes.

Well, What’s the Point?

The beauty of writing is that practice does help. You learn what not to do. You learn what works best for you. You learn what to do better. You remember to add details if you’re the kind of person that forgets them in the first draft.

Say it with me: Perfection is not the goal.

Finishing is our goal. Regardless of what your intentions are with your story (I have heard of some who burn the bad sections), your goal is to finish what you started. If things get to the point where you cannot meet your goal by the end of the month, that is fine. Set your story aside. But come back to it. I have favorite parts in all my novels, including the ones I have decided not to pursue publishing. Those stories helped me in other ways. I enjoy reading them. It was fun to do at the time.

But most importantly, the things those books taught me was how to write. I learned how to write a mystery when I didn’t know all the details of the crime. I learned how to write historical fiction by reading the Biblical account of the character I was following (and a whole lot of embellishing and making it up because I was too lazy to do research). Regardless, I learned from the venture.

Don’t beat yourself up that your story isn’t perfect. Perfection is not the goal. Accept that you are hammering out a draft. This draft will be made up only by long hours in front of your computer. It will take blood, sweat, and tears. It will take dedication. It will take time.

NaNoWriMo is not about creating a perfect book. It is about pulling a first draft out. It is about learning to create time to sit down and write. Chances are, if you can do it once, during one month, you will do it at other times as well.

Have you found one of those errors yet? Good. It is a sign that you are not perfect and you will never be perfect. However, with practice, your writing will get better. That, my friends, is our goal.

Now go, WRITE! (Win!)

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