FROM READERS: Perfectionism impedes writing process

Monday, December 9, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST

This article is an installment of the Missourian's new How-To Guide, where members of the community share their skills. Have something you're good at, or a skill you wish someone else would share? Visit our How-To page to find out how you can get involved.

Eric Praschan is a local novelist. He is the author of The James Women Trilogy, which is an Amazon best-seller. You can visit his website here.

I write in spurts seasonally. When I am inactively writing, the ideas are still germinating in my mind. I gather story ideas or scenes on Post-it Notes over time, and then connect single scenes together to form a plot line.

I used to get frustrated over spells of inactivity, but I soon learned that I needed them to recharge me so I could revisit the scenes with fresh eyes and an open mind. I also struggled with perfectionism, wanting each word, each paragraph, and each page to be polished and perfect from the first effort.

I’ve slowly learned over several years to allow myself freedom to embrace the drafting process. For me, the first draft is the spaghetti draft, where noodles, sauce, and uncooked meatballs go flying all over the walls, smearing and staining everything. But at least there’s something to work with, even if it’s messy.

The second draft is meat cooked rare, where there’s some flavor present, but it’s not quite ready to serve. The third draft is a hearty helping of meat and potatoes, where the dish is prepared and ready to be plated. The final draft is a perfectly seasoned meal served with a decadent dessert.

The polished quality of writing comes by rewriting, so I allow myself liberty to revise, rinse, and repeat. Revising is about quality, not speed. When I begin a scene, I might have a general idea of where I want the scene to end up, but I allow myself the opportunity of total exploration as I begin, so the characters determine where the scene goes based on their interactions.

This method keeps it fresh and exciting to see what happens; I feel like I am a reader as I write, holding my breath, laughing with glee, or cringing with trepidation as the characters engage the story full force. This approach enables me to take my hands off and not interfere with the story being told. It keeps me flexible and removes the perfectionism and rigidity of pre-planning and pre-determining everything ahead of time.

In terms of the overall writing process, I make an effort to take real-life observations and continually ask “what if?” about them, creating ever-expanding hypothetical character/plot situations out of everyday life circumstances. The “yes, and” rule of improvisational comedy also applies, where nothing is stifled, squelched, or stopped in the ideation process, because brainstorming implies that whatever kernel of an idea I am working with receives affirmation and extension by applying the “yes, and” principle. I ask “what if?” to start an idea and then plug in the “yes, and” rule to expand it even more.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.

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