It’s Okay if You’re Not Perfect

I was reading something today about an author who was so paralyzed with fear that he couldn’t get his first book done.  He agonized over every little thing.  He also has this habit of reading other books and picking out flaws in them.  So really…is it any wonder why he’s petrified of putting his work out in front of the world?

The reality of this whole writing thing is that no book is perfect.  I don’t care how it’s published or how much it is.  I don’t care who wrote it or who published it.  I don’t care what genre it is or how many years the author spent polishing it up.  Perfection is impossible because people aren’t perfect.

This may not come as a news flash to most of us, but then I come across people who have expectations so high that no one will measure up.  Not only are these people too hard on themselves, but they tend to make the rest of us miserable.

A book is just a book.  In the end, that’s all it is.  Sure, it’s a part of us that goes into it, but if it’s not the best book ever written, the world will keep spinning.  Besides (and this should be comforting to all perfectionists out there), no matter how good your book is, someone will hate it.  If you sell enough copies, you’ll get a 1 star reivew.  If you sell enough copies, you’ll get an email from someone who tells you how you could have written the book ‘better’.

So knowing that someone out there will hate your book for one reason or another, don’t you feel a little bit better about not being able to write the perfect book?  It gives me a lot of comfort.

All we can do is our best.  That best may not be someone else’s best, but guess what?  It’s not their book.  It’s our book.  The good news is no one can write our book as well as we can.  Why?  Because we’re the ones invested in it.  We have the passion for our story no one else does.  You could write out an outline and hand it off to someone else to write, but it won’t be the same story because they’ll insert aspects of themselves into it.  So only you can write your book.

So my advice to all the perfectionists of this world who agonize over the quality of their book is to keep in mind two things that will help: mercy and grace.  It’s okay to make mistakes.  It’s okay to not be perfect.  It’s okay to fail.

And really, it’s not whether you succeed or fail but what you do with that success or failure that define your true character.  If you can be successful and humble, you’re golden.  If you fail and can pick yourself back up, dust your pants off, and get another book on out there, you’re amazing.  If you can find the time to say a kind word when you see a fellow author’s book bashed, then you’re the kind of friend I want to have.  In a world of competing authors, finding authors who are encouraging and supportive is a necessity.  I don’t care how well you write.  If you’re out trashing other authors, I don’t want to read your books.

Anyway, my point in making this post is that it’s not writing the ‘perfect’ book that matters.  We are a work in progress, and our writing will be that way as well.  Each book we write should be better than the one that came before it.  Progress is slow, but you’ll never get better if you linger on in the same story for years on end.  You need to learn there’s a time when you have to send the story out into the world.  Then get on to your next tale.  :D

Categories: Psychology of Writing & Publishing

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28 thoughts on “It’s Okay if You’re Not Perfect

  1. WHAT A GREAT PIECE!
    thank you

  2. A Novel is a long piece of prose with something wrong with it…

    I think Neil Gaiman quoted that in his preface for the extended authors preferred text of ‘American Gods’, it’s certainly true that even if a Novel was perfect the readers wouldn’t be so you’d still be told that the Novel could be better.

  3. I love this post! I had an author friend say to me one time that one of the things she liked about me was that I didn’t agonize a long time over whether a book was perfect or not; when I was ready I just put it out there. I wasn’t scared to do it. This is the thing…it’s not brain surgery, it’s a book. Like you said, the world will keep spinning if it’s not perfect. If I had fretted over my books to the point it took me a couple of years to get it right, I wouldn’t have been going on vacations and buying things I want with money made from my books. I have an iPad and my husband has a brand new iPod because I didn’t expect perfection from myself (or anyone else). Should you make sure the book is as good as you can make it? Of course you should! You should never put out work you KNOW is not the best it can be. But once you’ve done the best you can, publish it! It’s important that you have a few sets of eyes on it for editing and proofing, but in the end, it’s your responsibility to make sure it’s ready. I know of people that have rewritten their book at least three times. And they are still not satisfied. Some people will never be satisfied with their work. Even after I publish a book, I later think of things I would have changed. But once it’s out there, leave it alone unless it has typos or something major that needs fixing. You can only tweak so much! Ruth, I think you’ve experienced changing things in your books after publication to please other people. And I think you’ve said you’re done with that, right?

    I’m really sorry I hijacked your post. I didn’t mean to ramble so much, but this post made so much sense to me! :)

    • I love your comment! I also know people who keep rewriting and rewriting, and they have few books to show for it. The problem is that books can always be better, no matter how much we work on them. Like you, I wouldn’t be making any money if I never put the books out there. I understood I wasn’t writing the best books ever written. I wrote books I loved writing and did my best with them. It was my desire to write another book that led me to keep publishing. It also helped that I had no expectations of selling anything. I think that took a lot of the pressure off from going over the book again and again. I’m so glad I started publishing when I did because back then self-publishing was the redheaded stepchild of the publishing world. The biggest worry was running into people who mocked self-publishing. Sometimes I miss those days because the environment was safer (ex. no one had to worry about their books being stolen).

      Yep, I’ve modified several of my books to please a couple of people who didn’t like something in them. Then when I published the new version, I got complaints from people who liked the original version. At the time it was frustrating and maddening. I could have written a brand new book that would have made me money if I hadn’t wasted time going back and changing four books in a series from historical to contemporary. Looking back, I think it was a blessing that it happened because I changed them back to historicals, and I learned how important it is to let the final version be the final version. It also taught me how we need to listen to our fans instead of the critics. So I’m glad I went through it.

      Typos and simple errors are the only things I’ll go back and correct. Everything else stays. LOL

  4. Nice article, Kimberly! Thanks for sharing :) ;))

  5. sharonrosegibson

    Ruth, this is so freeing! Thanks so much for writing this post. The fear of having mistakes in my book has hindered me from publishing. Especially since I teach writing, I feel like I have to be more perfect. When I create online content I\’m less intimidated because I can change mistakes or revise. Publishing a book seems so final. But you are so right, there is no one who writes perfectly and creates the perfect book. Sometimes I read books by well known authors and I\’m surprised at the writing errors like using passive verbs instead or active etc. Yet this does not hinder me from receiving and learning from the good content they share.
    Lauralynn, thanks for sharing your experience too that you wouldn’t have the money you have now if you had waited. Think of all the $$$’s lost because of this fear!
    Ruth, part of the reason I’ve been intimidated too is because of what other writers would say and you are right, I don\’t need to be connected with them. That is a reality that I will have to live for but I\’m not writing for them anyway.
    I\’m writing a book now and have thought about putting some articles on Kindle as well.
    Thank you so much Ruth for this encouraging and freeing perspective.

    • In my experience, other writers are the worst critics. There are some great and supportive ones, and I’m so glad for them. When I talk to readers, they don’t care how a book is published. They want to know what the story is about. I find that very comforting. Good luck as you venture on the road to publishing!

  6. That is excellent advice and an excellent post. What we Brits might call the Dog’s Bollocks. All I can say is that every new author should read this.

    Cheers

    MTM

  7. feelingfabulousdarling

    Good one! I’m proofing the paper book today and so far have found probably fifteen errors that I didn’t find the 200 times I edited the ms previously. Yikes! Thanks for this post!

    • I know how that goes. What a pain. I hate editing. No matter how much you do, there’s always a better way to word something. LOL

  8. Just the reminder I needed today! Thanks :-)

    • You’re welcome. :D I have to remind myself of this on a regular basis, especially when the inner critic bugs me during the first draft, and I know someone won’t like the way the story is going.

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  11. I went through a long phase early on that drove me crazy. It had to be perfect, out of the box, first draft.
    I got out of that by just doing the notes with pencil, paper and a large eraser. When i had enough notes for a chapter, I would type up the first draft. I’d do corrections and more notes. This went on until the final version. I would not look at the final version for at least a month and them do corrections.
    I check the ms again as I format for ebook.

    • You do a lot of work, and it shows in your process. I wish readers wouldn’t assume we do the first draft and plop it up for the world to read. The editing process is so intense. *sigh* I just get tired of people whining about lack of editing when we edit and edit until we can’t stand the book anymore. LOL

      • I was reading a book by an established writer and in a paragraph, the pronouns got mixed up. It was confusing. It was trad pub.
        I have read that proofreading isn’t done all of the time by trad pubs. The writer should have seen that.
        People think we sit down and the book types itself. They think it’s easy.
        I hate it when someone says that everyone has one book in them. Yeah, right.

        • LOL And I bet that the trad book got a free pass. If this was a self-published book, someone would have complained to Amazon KDP and KDP would have sent the author an email telling them to fix it unless they can explain the error isn’t an “error” or risk the book being sent to draft status.

          I love how some people assume that if it’s traditionally published, it’s better. I think they’re more likely to overlook errors in those books while picking on self-published books that have one or two typos. I once read a traditionally published book where the heroine’s hair color changed from one paragraph to the next and two others (same publisher) where there was an sentence that got cut off at the halfway point. Readers would have been up in arms over that if it’d been self-published, but when I checked reviews on those books, no one mentioned those glaring errors.

          The rules for the traditionally published books and self-published books are unfair, and I wished the scales were balanced. But that would be the ideal world.

          I don’t think everyone has a book in them. Everyone has ideas of what they’d like to read (maybe), but saying that everyone has a book they could write is insulting. Writing is hard work. Not everyone can do it. That’s like saying everyone can sing or paint. No one wants to hear me sing and no one wants to see the mess I’d make on a canvas. LOL

  12. Great post!

    If you’re striving for perfection, the book’s still not going to be done when your life is done…

    • Very true. :D

      • I can’t draw. It doesn’t matter who says what about learning how to draw, I don’t have that ability.
        The book was by Micheal Connolly. (sp)
        Ruth Ann you are exactly right about the whining about ebook mistakes versus trad.
        Self pub books aren’t in the mainstream, but they are getting there.
        Adult readers are very forgiving of the writers they follow.
        Kids will scream and run out of the room. They don’t tolerate much.
        People who pick on epub books also pick on sales clerks and everyone else.
        Librarians say that every trad book has at least one mistake.

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