Perfectionism and Publishing

If any writer knows that revision is necessary, then he also knows the final product will be imperfect.

“Final” draft does not mean “perfect” draft.

This becomes especially (nay, painfully) clear when you see one of your works in print.

Take it from me—I published a novel last summer, later to find that there were several errors in the printed manuscript. While I still believe self-publishing was the best choice for this particular novel, I learned first-hand the value of multiple editing rounds and critical eyes.

Part of me winced when I found these. I’d given it countless pre-publication read-throughs. How could I have missed these mistakes?

I have to admit, it’s humbling to share this publicly. And it doesn’t mean I’m not proud of my book—I still am, and thankfully I’ve been able to update the manuscript with the necessary edits.

But the reason I share this is because I think it’s important for us writers to get comfortable with our own imperfection without using that as an excuse for laziness.

(See my post on revision for more.)

Having known the excitement tainted by surprise as I paged through my first published novel, I understand on a whole new level the value of extensive (astronomically extensive) editing. But I also understand that the world didn’t end because there were a few typos. People still liked the book. The characters still had their own voices. The professionalism of the book, however, could have benefited from more close read-throughs.

And happily, I can now say that it has!

While perfectionism may not be the struggle of every writer, it’s worth reminding ourselves that as long as we are imperfect, our creations are going to be imperfect as well.

And that’s okay!

While we shouldn’t let the fear of failure stop us from stepping out, we also shouldn’t use our natural flaws as a free pass from hard work. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that our best two years from now will be better than our best today—if we go all-in every time and commit to improving at each chance we get.

In what ways have you dealt with perfectionism in your work? Do you think it usually helps you or hinders you?

If you’re a writer, what have you learned from the process of “rough draft to final draft?” What motivates you to try again when something doesn’t turn out as planned?

3 Comments on “Perfectionism and Publishing

  1. Thanks for sharing. The word limit for my research proposal is just 5000 words but I have been trying not to miss any important details. I am so greedy or perfectionist. Now, I have a few different proposals which far exceed the word limits. However, I have learned a lot throughout the writing process. I believe that’s part of the journey for me to head towards my proposal defence. The final proposal should be more holistic and very dense in terms of content. It’s a humbling experience as I have got guidance from a few people, not to mention the authors of the articles I read. I have taken in all comments and digested them even though some didn’t make any sense at first.

    • YES! I can totally relate– my senior thesis and defense were very similar in that regard. One of the hardest things in any composition is knowing how to trim down the size while keeping the solid content. Good for you for keeping at it, you’ve got this!!

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