Sending an imperfect (or even *gasp* incomplete) first draft to your editor feels a little bit like getting pushed out of an airplane before you’ve psyched yourself up for the jump.
I know this because I recently turned an incomplete first draft in to MY editor, Allie (in case you haven’t already seen or heard me mention this, Allie and Jo are my editors on the fantasy series I’m working on).
As a writer, my track record has been “spend four years writing one book, then revise it at least three times before sending it for the first round of developmental edits”. But I’m a series author now, and I have a publication schedule to stick to. So endless revisions are no longer a luxury I can afford.
But let’s keep going with this skydiving metaphor, yes?
Perfectionism feels like your parachute. (Spoiler alert: it’s not!)
By subjecting my works-in-progress to revision after relentless revision, I create an illusion that I’m making my own parachute. After all, if I turn in the perfect manuscript to my editor, that means I’ll have a much softer landing and I won’t need to revise as much afterward…right?
When you write your first draft, you’re largely in an echo chamber of your own making. Sure, you may have friends who look over bits and pieces of your rough draft (I do, and it keeps the creation process fun for me). You might even do a Story Mapping Call with your editor or coach to round out your ideas (I do that, too). But at the end of the day, writing your first draft is a lot of you, alone in your own head, with no one but your characters.
Revising over and over just gets you stuck in a loop, thinking you’re going to write your own way out of needing to make major edits later. Is that possible? Yes, but it’s not probable, and you shouldn’t drag your creation process out because you’re banking on that outcome.
Your real parachute is the editor’s feedback.
Your editor’s notes, and the actual revision process, make up the real parachute that floats you safely back to earth after the jump. When you’ve spent so much time in your head creating this amazing story, you need someone to gently take it out of your hands and look at it with an objective eye.
It’s going to feel really weird to let that book go sooner than you feel comfortable with passing it on. There’s no way around that.
When I gave my book to Allie, incomplete (can you imagine, a first draft being incomplete? pfft), I wasn’t expecting to have a visceral reaction. But I literally felt like I was falling. It felt even stranger to agree to NOT touch it again until after she’d finished with the editorial notes.
But here we are. And I’m still alive.
So before you take your own leap, there are three important things you need to remember.
1. You can’t make a first draft perfect. Period.
I know it’s every author’s dream to turn around a perfect first draft that only needs minimal edits. That would be amazing. BUT, it’s not likely to happen. Should you do your best on draft one? Heck yeah. But you should also allow it to be imperfect.
Any writer who has been in the trenches will tell you that all first drafts are just rough. No matter how many punches you try to pull, that’s just the truth. So embrace it and find an editor who accepts an imperfect first draft without judgment, and with wholehearted dedication to helping you make the story the best it can be in its final form.
(And remember: an editor who expects a good first draft and judges the author is a terrible editor. Fire them immediately.)
2. You need practice letting go of your projects.
It’s good practice to stick to deadlines. A solid deadline forces your hand and makes you move on to the next step of the storytelling process, whether you believe you’re ready for it or not. (You’ll never feel like you are.)
When you let go of a project “early”, you’ll feel (very) out of control, but that’s the point. Trying to control too much about your process will backfire, because perfection isn’t possible. Which brings me to #3…
3. Perfectionism is self-sabotage.
I’ve used every excuse in the book to hold onto perfectionistic behaviors. See if these sound familiar:
- I just want my story to be the best it can be!
- I have high standards–I’m just sticking to them.
- My story has to be [XYZ] before I can send it off.
- I can save the editor some work if I run through this again.
- If I just revise again, I can go straight to an ARC release!
Don’t analyze each excuse too closely. They all feel valid when you’re using them. Instead, ask yourself this question: what is the end result of each excuse to practice perfectionism?
The end result is a delay in your process. Which translates to self-sabotage.
Self-sabotage feels like comfort when you’re doing it. Sure, it feels really good to revise that book again (either that, or I’m just weird because I like revising). But what’s it going to feel like when you end up moving your release date because you waited so long for the first editorial round?
Keep your endgame in mind, and it’ll be a bit easier to leave that comfort zone and pass your draft on for editing. Even after all is said and done and your book is on the shelves, you’ll always circle back to your completed story with things you wish you’d done differently.
Need help letting go of your draft?
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