Neil Gaiman’s advice for writers is simple: “You have to finish things — that’s what you learn from, you learn by finishing things.”
I worked as a journalist for a newspaper for several years for a local newspaper in Dublin. It was my job to write news stories each week.
I struggled with perfectionism in this job, I was never happy with my news stories, and I missed several deadlines as a result. So, my editor called me into the office and told me to close the door.
“If you can’t finish the damn thing, you’re not doing your job,” he said.
I wasn’t happy, but my editor was right.
My pursuit of perfectionism meant I wasn’t doing my job.
I’ve made every possible mistake writing fiction and non-fiction, and I’ve learnt the hard-way how to overcome perfectionism
If you can’t finish the damn thing, you’re not doing your job
My writing still isn’t where I’d like it be, but because I’ve written so many bad stories, missed deadlines and read authors like Neil, I know I can finish something.
Writing is Your Job
In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King writes, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
- What’s the last writing project I abandoned?
- When was the last time I published or submitted a writing project for publication?
- Am I constantly seeking new ways to find feedback about my writing?
Finish what you are working on, and you will feel a sense of accomplishment alien to the writer who gave up altogether. Creating, writing and finishing your work will teach you far more than polishing pages of prose for months on end.
Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, shipping is more important than perfection.
Instead of abandoning a writing project or slaving away indefinitely, set a target for submission or publication.
Stick to this target and, if you miss it, finish, publish or submit your work as soon as you can.
There’s no need to ship mediocrity or publish a writing project for the sake of it; just don’t let your writing stagnate in a drawer.
Confidence Comes When You Finish
When you finish your next writing project, some people may criticise or reject your work. And they could be right, but you still gain a victory.
Learn how to stop being a perfectionist, and you will become the type of writer who:
- Sees a project through to the end
- Looks for feedback
- Seeks opportunities to improve
Even if your writing project is a failure, at least you will be free to write something else, something better.
I’ve finished a lot of awful articles in my time, but finishing them gives me confidence to see the writing process through. And afterwards, I was able to show people my work (warts and all) and learn from their feedback.
Feedback is invaluable. It’s your chance to learn how to become a better writer for free.
If you get into the habit of finishing your work, you can build momentum towards becoming a better writer. You can become the kind of writer who thinks of an idea, fleshes their idea out, edits, rewrites, polishes and the rewrites some more, before finishing the damn thing.
None of this is possible if you get hung up on completing a perfect piece of writing.
My editor and I long since fell out, but I’m still writing.
Please let me know about the last writing project you finished or abandoned in the comments section below.