When I first started to pursue my passion for writing (I’m talking way back in my pre-teen years), I used to go over and over my “novel”. I would relentlessly write and rewrite paragraphs and chapters; I would rename my characters, change my plot plan and ultimately… never get past chapter 5.

This method is the primary way, in which I postpone writing my stories. I know others, who leave the editing process till the end, before rewriting their whole book. I know people spend years and years on their debut novel. I see a lot of authors that edit as they go, and that works well for them. For me, however, I need to write down my whole story before I can even consider editing it. If I don’t, I get stuck. I worry about the quality, the content, the spelling and grammar so much that I forget that my story is trying to go somewhere. I get so tied up in trying to impress my future readers, that I never get to the end of my book. I noticed this last year, as I started my degree that a fear of being imperfect really affected the way I wrote.

Writing at this point becomes a matter of pride. We want the pieces that we put out in the world, to be inspiring and perfect. We want our work to mean something. What we want our writing to accomplish is not inherently wrong, it’s just impractical. We will all get that scathing first review, you know, the one that makes you cry a little bit. Sometimes, we hate our work so much that we have said far worse than anything others have said. We as artists, presenting pieces into the world, will always want perfection. Perfection, however, isn’t a quality that any human possesses.

There was a distinct change in my writing between my personal and academic life. There were the stories that I enjoyed writing and the stories that I thought would be better received by academics. Submitting work applies a great amount of pressure the first few times you do it. To be honest, I still get nervous when submitting short stories, poems, or essays for my uni tutor to mark. It’s a natural human response to be afraid of being judged. It holds me back and prevents me from being able to release my work. This as you can imagine, isn’t very helpful when it comes to deadlines. I edit up until the last minute and get upset when my tutor doesn’t fall head over heels for my story. The suggestions they make, however, are always amazing, they improve my writing by 300%, and I admire and respect the work they do. Getting a second opinion will always improve your writing, and while the editing process may be painful; it really impacts the quality of your work

Perfectionism can prevent you from accomplishing your dreams. Sometimes it takes friends and family telling you that it’s ready. Sometimes you have to believe them. The number of times I wanted to hit the delete button on my poetry book was absolutely ridiculous. There were times when I physically couldn’t look at ‘Wobbly’, without hating everything I had written. Truth be told, I’m embarrassed by it, because I know that it could’ve been better, but if I would’ve allowed myself to continue thinking this way, I would never have a book. Sometimes you need other people, to come into your life, look at your work and say, this is good enough. Sometimes they won’t, sometimes they will ask you to rework something.

Getting corrections from an outsider will help you to understand what edits really need to be made, and which do not. You don’t need to rewrite that perfectly fine sentence three more times. That paragraph that you put all fancy language in that leads nowhere? Yeah, maybe that’s the part that needs to go! A writing buddy, a beta reader, an editor, or proofreaders are all there to help you know, what needs to change. Of course, you have your own reworking and revising before you present it to others, but don’t waste time changing things that don’t need to change in order to present a “perfect story”, to someone who will ask you to change aspects of it. Your readers will understand that this is just the second or third draft. Don’t worry about perfection; they are there to help with that.

As for when to stop editing before you present it to others, try to fix any grammar or spelling errors. Double check that your plot makes sense and that you’ve tied up all of your loose ends. Then set that birdie free, I know that this doesn’t seem like it’s enough to you, it didn’t to me. The fact of the matter is, between this stage, and all of the different hands your book will go through, it may change an awful lot. You do not want to waste your time perfecting something that will get changed that much. It just creates more work and more heartbreak for you.

If you’re like me and you can’t help but edit as you go there are a few tips and tricks that I use to prevent falling back into bad habits.

  • Don’t read back over your story to figure out where you left off.
  • Outline your book, this will help you know where in the story you are, without having to read it back.
  • Type in white ink, when you can’t see what you’ve written, you can’t change it.
  • There is a website called Fighter’s Block, it’s basically a game that forces you to write a certain amount of words within a time frame. This helps me power through new sections of the story, these can be cleaned up after the rest of the book is finished. (Not an advertisement, I just really love this website!)

While I know these tricks work for me, they might not work for you. It’s always worth a shot regardless of what your bad writing habit is.

Don’t be afraid to put off writing the perfect story. The way that the publishing process is built helps you to attain a high standard of writing. Whether you go the traditional or self-published one there are steps you can go through that help to build up your story. Please don’t think that it needs to be perfect before others can read it. It is others polishing it that will allow your work to shine.