by Camela Thompson
When I talk to friends, they ask me if I'm scared of running out of ideas. So far, the ideas haven't been a problem. I have stack of concepts with rough outlines. Getting to know the characters is harder, often happening gradually as I write out the story (I haven't figured out how to adequately "outline" a character - their little quirks and preferences gain clarity as I write). Most of my early revisions involve reworks due to solidifying the characters. I realize the character wouldn't do what is convenient for the plot and need to be coerced into action. This takes time, but it isn't what I would call difficult. The hard part is forcing myself to ignore my inner critic.
I have days when a scene will pop into my head so clearly it's like a movie reel. I wish I could say this happens all the time, but in truth the majority of my days are spent talking myself into writing. Finding things to clean or fix are common stall tactics. While I nervously glance at my laptop, I have a list of recriminations firing at me from my inner critic.
The second book won't live up to expectations set by the first.
The story isn't good enough.
You don't belong.
You aren't good enough.
A bit dysfunctional, isn't it? But I put it out there because I don't believe I'm the only person who is self critical, and I realize that I am a perfectionist - and I don't mean that in the bragging I-do-everything-well kind of way. This is more of an I'm-glad-I-have-a-licensed-therapist confession. It is very hard to turn off the inner critic while doing anything - even laundry. I'll be honest and admit to some abnormal behaviors. I have a sorting system to aid with efficiency. It's my least favorite chore because it takes so long and it's easy to get distracted. Getting distracted means that I forget about laundry and it sits too long while I perform 15 other activities. If it sits too long, it means it's wrong. I am really lucky because my husband has taken charge of that chore.
My writing assistant reminding me that it's break time.
If I don't listen, she will make writing harder.
If I'm weird about laundry, you don't want to know what goes through my head while I'm at work or writing. It makes me very good at my job as an analyst - I'm good at managing timelines and mistakes are rare because of all of the double checking that I do. When it comes to writing and artwork, it's more of a hindrance than a help. Creative processes are stunted by a rigid or formal structure. A different part of the brain is used for weaving a story than editing - and the analytical part of my brain has a hard time letting go of being in control. I'm constantly looking for grammatical quirks and personality flaws in my characters.
The hardest part for me is the beginning of a novel. If I let myself, I will spend months reorganizing chapters, rewriting, and editing. It's my abyss. Every author is told that the first chapter has to grab the reader's attention. The analyst in me has embraced that concept and taken it a little too far.
Nanowrimo (a November goal of writing 50,000 words in a month) was a great exercise for me. There were days that I wanted to do nothing but edit the crappy chapter I had just written, but to hit my daily quota, I was forced to ignore the chapter and keep going. When I was finished with the 50,000 words, I allowed myself to go back and make the edits that were nagging me. And you know what? Those "awful" chapters weren't bad. They needed rework, but they were still necessary to move the plot forward.
When I can let go of the need for perfection, the creative part of my brain takes me to places that I wouldn't have thought possible. Strange creatures come to life, dark things unfold, and my characters shine despite the cracks in their armor. If I can bring what I learned from NANOWRIMO back into practice, my stories will be better off.
Do you struggle with perfectionism? Do you feel it has aided or held you back?
Freelance writer and Dark urban fantasy author featuring vampires with bite.