Pep Talk Week 1: Exuberant Imperfection

Becca Campbell offers sage advice on perfection…and the importance of letting it go.

I’ve been a serious writer for eight years now. I have a dozen novels under my belt. You’d think I have this WriMo thing down.

But coming up with an outline has been more difficult this year than normal. I wasn’t quite sure why until I picked up No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty, and a simple truth made itself clear:

I had slipped into the mindset of aiming for perfection.

This is a very, very bad thing for a writer. It’s not healthy for anyone, but when you’re sitting down to begin a novel, that blank page can be crippling.

You aren’t good enough, it says. You haven’t figured out all the details. You don’t even know how the story will end! And how are you going to write that one scene—the one that terrifies you to even think about?

Even when you start writing, this fear doesn’t go away. Look, you spelled that word wrong. Your grammar’s atrocious. And those lines of dialog don’t make any sense!

For me, this year the self-doubt began before I even started writing. I’ve written four stories in my current series and have four more to write. I stand on this precipice in the very middle, plagued with fear that I will take a wrong move. That I’ll write myself into a corner. That I’ll break the entire plot and won’t be able to pull off a satisfying ending. That I’ll finish the series and discover I need to completely rewrite the first four books.

These fears loom above me with so much power they’ve paralyzed me. Why? I put so much pressure on myself to get it right—to get it perfect—on the first try. But I needed a reminder: that’s not how stories are made.

That’s why Chris Baty’s bold phrase exuberant imperfection is my motto for this year. He says, “The first law of exuberant imperfection is essentially this: The quickest, easiest way to produce something beautiful and lasting is to risk making something horribly crappy.”

Risk. What a terrifying word. Who wants to risk making a mistake? To risk being unskilled at something? To risk facing your own weaknesses?

Generally, we’re fearful of trying new things. Here’s what Baty says about risk and making mistakes:

“The times we do actually make a point of stepping out of our normal routine, we tend to get flustered when we don’t get the hang of it right away. This is especially true with artistic endeavors. At the first awkward line of prose or botched brushstroke, we hurriedly pack away the art supplies and scamper back to our comfortable domains of proficiency. Better a quitter than a failure our subconscious reasoning goes.

Exuberant imperfection allows you to circumvent those limiting feelings entirely. It dictates that the best way to tackle daunting, paralysis-inducing challenges is to give yourself permission to make mistakes, and then go ahead and make them.

As you forge onward this month, don’t just allow yourself to be imperfect in your writing, make exuberant mistakes. If you see a typo as you’re writing—leave it. Just for the sake of making your perfectionistic side angry. Make it very clear to that blank page early on that you are not expecting to get things right the first time.

Baty says, “Exuberant imperfection allows you to write uncritically, to experiment, to break your time-honored rules of writing just to see what happens.” When you embrace exuberant imperfection, you cultivate an environment where magic can happen.  There’s another bonus—with this mindset, quality is not a priority, and therefore you can achieve a greater number of words much faster.

This is not the time to strive for perfection. You will have plenty of time to edit and revise your story later. Remind yourself that you can fix every typo, mend every plot hole, and polish to your heart’s content—just not during the month of June.

For the rest of the month, I’m going to leap forward exuberantly, staring imperfection in the face with a wide smile across my lips. I challenge you to join me. Lets open our arms wide to all the mistakes we’re about to make. And to all the words we’re about to write.

Onward!

Becca writes New Adult (college age) fiction that’s typically Urban Fantasy but often ranges anywhere from Science Fiction to Thrillers. Her writing typically involves a bit of the fantastical with an emphasis on relationships. She is addicted to thinking up cool, super-human abilities and the tragic downsides that go along with them.

You can start reading her Flawed series for free.

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