Have you ever sat down to write something – a short story, a marketing email, a scene from the next great American novel – and become so hung up on crafting the perfect opening line that you never wrote anything at all?
I myself am a recovering perfectionist, and I can credit the breakthrough to putting myself in the room with one of my marketing mentors (Jeff Walker) and watching the magic happen when he forced me to write quickly… and then move on to write something else. When there was no time to analytically dissect all that was right – and especially what was wrong – I was able to just create, where before I was stuck staring at a blank page.
Turns out the secret to creating even one masterwork is to create a lot of things. As Ray Bradbury says, “Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you are doomed.”
This phenomenon doesn’t merely pertain to writing. Perfectionism is pervasive in every creative endeavor. No matter what we’re building, the obsession with “perfect” prohibits the one thing we most desire.
David Bayles and Ted Orland share a story in their book, Art of Fear, about a ceramics teacher who divides his class into two groups. One was told they would be graded on the Quality of the one work they would produce by the end of term. The other learns they will be graded solely on the Quantity of work produced.
The surprising outcome however, is that come the last day of class, the highest Quality works had all been created by the group being graded for Quantity.
The secret in this case is that the Quantity group had been churning out literally pounds of work – and learning from mistakes – while the Quality group had sat theorizing about perfection, “and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”
Before my breakthrough day with Jeff Walker, I believed “perfectionism” was a good thing. But even then I knew “procrastination” was bad. That 5-syllable word was filthier than my favorite 4-letter ones.
What I didn’t realize is they’re the same.
Are you putting off writing your book until you can pen your very best words? It’s time to break that protective shell and scribble with abandon. Let your heart pour out as words on the page. Stop editing your best work before it even gets drafted. Write LOTS of things!
Write whatever’s on your mind right now. Rant if you want to. Share the thoughts which terrify you. And allow your characters to live deeply – and messily – because it’s in this way you yourself will begin to live!
If any of this sounds like you, I’d love to help you bust through and find your creative genius. Just click Reply. (And write something). (Anything!)
Pursuing perfection is like hunting the holy grail. Don’t be Donovan from Indiana Jones… in the same room as that which you seek, but not recognizing what you’re looking for.
Instead, create with abandon! Let life (and your first drafts) be messy!