Tag Archives: craft

David Foster Wallace

The Whole Thing About Perfectionism

“You know, the whole thing about perfectionism. The perfectionism is very dangerous. Because of course if your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything. Because doing anything results in…it’s actually kind of tragic because you sacrifice how gorgeous and perfect it is in your head for what it really is. And there were a couple of years where I really struggled with that.”

David Foster Wallace

Mark Twain at his writing desk

Shut up and write!

I over plan. I mentioned in a previous blog post that I like to plan—and there is nothing wrong with that—but sometimes I take it to an extreme. When I wrote my first manuscript, Coal Belly, I learned a valuable lesson about my tendency to over plan.

It started with a map. After I had finished it apparently I needed to draw out the deck plans for the riverboat central to the plot. When that was finished, I had to draw a new, highly detailed map of the capital city where a section of the story took place. That obviously wasn’t detailed enough, so I needed to divide it up and name all the neighborhoods. Then I needed to draw out the various symbols of the various factions within that capital city. Next, I needed to… no…no, no, no, no, no.


I didn’t need to do half that. Eventually, I realized I was spending so much time creating busy work for myself that I was getting nothing done. I was working on collateral and not on the actual story itself. That’s a problem. Research is fine when it’s crucial, but there comes a time when it begins to get in the way. Learning to recognize when I was doing something necessary, and when I was just spinning my wheels was essential for me to get things done. I had to quit working on all the tangential stuff and focus on the work itself. The actual work. I needed to just shut up and write.

I have to remind myself about this daily. I need to separate the busy work from real work. There’s always a blog post to write, a character to outline, an article to read, a comment to compose, a map to draw, a playlist to assemble, a twitter conversation to follow, etc. The list is endless, and it can get in the way and keep you from finishing. (Rule #2) It’s different for each of us, but somewhere inside, we all know if what we are doing is needed to completing our project or if it’s just a distraction.

Whenever you catch yourself doing something that isn’t what you want to be working on, do a double check. Decide if it’s really worth your time or if you should just sit down, shut up, and write.