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Don't Let Writing Perfection Be the Enemy of the Good

Posted by Arthur Gutch on Wed, Oct 07, 2015 @ 02:40 PM

Every author wants to put his absolute best in the work he publishes, but for many of them this can mean running in a never-ending circle. They polish and hone their words, never satisfied and always searching for that one perfect, golden phrase. If you tend to spend more time rewriting a new version than you did the first draft, you may be one of those authors who don't know when to let go. It's time to embrace the old saying, the perfect is the enemy of the good. Your book may be good, it may even be very good. But it will never be perfect, and continuing to aim toward that will only delay the next step, which is actually publishing your book. But how do you break out of that mindset? Here are some exercises to put you back on the path to completion. Perfect_Enemy_author


Look at the top 10 books on any bestseller list. Not those books that the literati deemed to be worthy of praise, but those that sold a lot of copies. Look at your genre, general fiction, or even biographies. Choose ten bestsellers from the last decade. Wherever you get them, make a pile and read through the first chapter of each. Note the language each author used in her book. For most successful authors, especially those with repeat readers, the writing sits solidly in the middle of a high school level vocabulary. The voice is conversational, not lecturing. Bestselling authors know how to write so it sounds like a friend is telling you a story.

Your Top Ten

Make a list of your ten favorite books of all time. Underneath each title, write a one-sentence synopsis of the plot. For instance, if you read Dorothy gets caught in a tornado, goes to a magical land, has adventures, and learns the value of home, you know exactly what book that is. Now underneath each of those lines, write down one quote from each book. The point is, you'll have no problem remembering the story. It's the exact words each author chose that are not so memorable. If you want your work to resonate with readers for years to come, it's the story that's important, not every individual word choice.


The Pomodoro Technique is a proven way to increase your productivity when writing your book. More importantly, it's a great way to focus on your writing. The idea is to sit down, set a timer for 20 or 25 minutes, and just write. Don't go back and fix typos. Don't mull over word choices, just pick a word and go with it. Pound your way through the entire segment of time, known as a Pom, without stopping to think about language. After you're done, go away for half an hour and then go back to read what you wrote. It will be surprisingly good, without benefit of agonizing word choices.

Beta Readers

Your readers are you audience, so why not let them decide? Choose a small group of beta readers. Clean up the typos in that first Pom you wrote. Then make a copy and polish the words as usual, making the language shine and glitter as much as possible. Give both copies to your beta readers. The odds are good they'll like the casual one better. Writing off-the-cuff gives you a more natural voice, and editing a page to death only takes away any flavor it might have.


Keep the Faith and May the Force be with You!


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