It Has to be Good, Not Perfect

The sun pours down on my life today. Actually, a thunderstorm is approaching, but to me, all is light and life. I gave a talk yesterday to a foreign affairs discussion group I belong to. Today, therefore, I no longer have to give a talk to the foreign affairs discussion group!

Speaking in public is not a problem for me. It’s the fear of making a mistake that wrecks my life. The search for correctness on every last tiny point ate up last week like the Tazmanian Devil pouncing on its prey. I had a good grasp on my material. But what if that date (2005) should actually be 2004? Google it. It was 2005. What if…? Google it. I spent more time in Google than in Word.

Because I spent the week obsessing, I printed my handouts at the last minute. My printer broke down. I switched to my husband’s printer, got one file completed, and the printer suddenly began taking its orders from Mars. Half a ream of paper was wasted before I finished the task. My office looked as if Dirty Harry had ransacked it.

No time for a shower before leaving. I plastered my hair down with a comb so severely that no one could doubt I intended it to look that way, for some unfathomable reason. Since I know where all the local speed traps are, I walked into the meeting room right on time, wearing an easy expression of ‘no sweat!’ Which made me think of the missed shower again.

And it all went fine. It almost always does. And so what if I had made a mistake or two? The world would not have ended. I would not have been damned for all eternity.

You wouldn’t think that writing fiction would be as susceptible to the search for perfect truth as reportage. You’re supposed to make fiction up. The writer is responsible for all the truth in the fiction. Unhappily, s/he gets none of the feedback offered by the real world when truths collide. In life, a brook simply will not run uphill. In your book, it can run one way in Chapter 3 and the other in Chapter 11. Until some kind or not-so-kind reader points that out.

The perfection trap doesn’t confine itself to fictional facts. When every flaw catches your eye equally, whether it’s a poor word choice or a gaping plot hole, progress can be agonizingly slow. I’ve managed to bring forth a first draft. I’ve rewritten, rewritten the rewrites and … you finish the sentence, assuming it ever ends. A draft that really needs only a clean-up is still miles over the horizon.

Perhaps it’s a trick of focal distance. The present plan is to focus on plot, plot, plot and never mind the rest. And we all know how to find out whether that’s a good idea. 1) Apply rear end to chair. 2) Write.

About Heidi Wilson

I'm currently writing a mystery that takes place in New Hampshire and a novel about an artist who's working in Ireland and Hell. Former incarnations: stock market economist and professor of Greek. Go figure.

Posted on April 22, 2016, in Heidi Wilson, research, writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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