You know the saying. Every year around November it bubbles up to the general consciousness of nascent writers everywhere. “Just write something every day.” If only aspiring storytellers would heed that advice for more than a month.
Look, writing is hard. If it weren’t, everyone would be a successful author. But it’s more than just the practice-makes-perfect element at play. Sometimes, it’s also the fear of producing something less than an absolute masterpiece.
I hate to break it to you, but the vast majority of us will never create such a work. The key is to not let that stop you from writing. Or, to use another oft-cited cliché, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”
Storytime. A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless––though not like that guy in Manzoni’s novel––has been a writer for years. Decades even. He has ideas squirreled away, half-finished drafts and novel outlines. But the thing is, he never finishes a work. Oh, he’ll revisit them every few years and get excited, making new tweaks and edits, but nary a one has ever been published.
Here’s the rub. Self-publishing is easy. Even for utter crap, it’s laughably simple these days. People upload literary garbage and release it into the wild on a daily basis, sloppy, unedited, and with covers a 6-year-old could design. But this friend? His writing is actually quite good. Better than much of the pap floating around Amazon these days, for sure. Yet his output fluctuates wildly and is often nonexistent. And when he does write, the end product invariably winds up in storage, not living up to his overly-ambitious standards.
He will never publish at this rate.
In ten years he has written bits of several books, screenplays, and treatments, stashing them away while lamenting the difficulties of an author’s life all the while. Meanwhile, in just two years I’ve published thirteen (including shorts collections), with my new five book sci-fi series coming out as a binge reader release (yes, shameless plug). Now, my work is fun, but will by no means ever be considered classics of great literature. But guess what? That’s okay. And there are thousands of readers who enjoy it and look forward to the next release. Good is fine and keeps your momentum. Perfect may take a lifetime and result in just one book.
So take this as a cautionary tale of sorts. Use the momentum from NaNoWriMo to KEEP WRITING. Even 500 words over the course of a day will add up to 182,500 words by the end of a year. Most books are around 90k. That’s roughly 2 novels a year at that rate.
So write, finish, rewrite, polish, and have a professional copy editor fine-tooth comb your work. Then stop messing with it, release it, and move on to the next one. Though not perfect for everyone, that’s how the vast majority will grow as an author and build a body of work.