Ace, I understand where you are coming from. But I think you should really consider Mizal's response again as it is a really good answer. It doesn't seem to me that she is saying "Just shut up and write." (though that probably is the bottom line of what needs to happen)
What I think Mizal is pointing out to you is that you are confusing "perfectionism" and "procrastination". And that saying it is because of perfectionism is just an excuse your procrastination uses to delay you.
True perfectionism would cause you to obsess over the details, but would also keep you focused on working on them until you get them right. You would continue writing the scene over and over until it is just right, unable to let it rest in an unfinished or imperfect state.
Procrastination will use any excuse possible to keep us from getting down to business and getting stuff done. Sometimes we wrap our excuses in things that seem more positive to us (perfectionism), but at some point we just have to get to work and force ourselves to focus. Methods to focus and beat procrastination can be different for everyone. But if we identify and face the real issue, lack of focus and procrastination, it's a lot easier to overcome.
Honestly, If that is the core of it, it is an easy fix. Everybody edits and deletes stuff. In fact, that is one of the main things editors do - "don't include that, add some here, etc." Deleting is easy. It's not like we are banging these things out on an old typewriter. (unless of course you are).
Those are good suggestions.
TBH, I sometimes mentally refer to some ideas from your storygame Finding the Muse to help me focus.
Others have already given the good advice of "try writing from the seat of your pants." This is probably better advice than what I'm going to give, but what I'm suggesting might be a good intermediary step if that's too hard for you at the moment.
Since you've shown that you prefer knowing what's going to happen in a plot/scene before you write it, I suggest you create extremely detailed brainstorms, right down to individual paragraphs and lines. It sounds like from what you're saying that you only create these guides in your head. This way you will forget a lot, and have to re-do a lot of planning as you write.
An exercise that might help you is each day, you sit down, set a timer and write for 15 minutes. It doesn't have to be good, it doesn't have to be about your current project, it doesn't even have to be fiction, you just have to spend the entire 15 minutes writing. This may help you work past some of your blocks.
EDIT: Ah, I should have read Ogre's post more thorougly, it seems this has already been suggested.
Tackling Perfectionism in Writing
To be honest, I don’t really know why I’m typing this when I’ve got a storygame to work on. But I suppose this is just another form of procrastination, and after facing a lot of struggles with perfectionism in this current contest entry, I think I’d do my future self a favor and make a list of some things which really helped me tackle these problems.
Disclaimer: Not all of these tips would work for you. Depending on the type of author you are (e.g. plotter, plantser, panters, etc) and the type of storygame you’re working on (gauntlet, cave-of-time, or a different type entirely), some of these might work for you while others won’t. But writing is largely about finding out what techniques are helpful to your personal style and what aren’t, and you’ll discover new tricks to combat perfectionism over time.
Also: I think 16 is a great age to begin more serious attempts at writing. Not only do you have more time and energy, but school isn’t too difficult at that age either. For instance, I had enough time to completely write Dreamtruder and Breaker within almost a month each (although Breaker did have a pre-written and largely revised prologue), and still managed to get grades above 80% and 90% while writing in some of my classes. But focus on school first, it’s important for your future. (And I can’t believe back then I actually considered an average of above 80% good enough lol).
Alright, enough rambling on. Time to tackle the main tips and techniques I use to deal with perfectionism:
Depending on the type of storygame you write, there are several ways to plan an idea out. What usually happens for me is that I get hit with a brilliant idea, so here’s step one of the planning process: write down everything.
1. Write down everything
Just open up a new document and jot down everything about your storygame, be it a character detail, a worldbuilding idea, premise, overarching theme, or setting inspiration. Let it all flow onto the page. This is the first ‘plan’ you’ll have, and even if it’s full of plot holes and seemingly unrelated information, don’t worry about that yet.
As you delve into the later stages of your storygame, you might come up with more random flashes of inspiration (e.g. dialogue between characters, sudden plot twists, etc) and feel free to revisit this document to write it down.
2. Organize the information
Here’s where you get into the barebones plan for your storygame, or as some people call it, the outline. You’ll separate the information into different parts (e.g. character details, setting, etc). Based on the structure of your storygame, here’s what it could look like:
Different ‘sections’ or ‘chapters’: All of my published storygames follow this structure. One is separated by days, and another, by stages of a competition. I usually have a few outlines: one for plot, one for character, and another where I just write down setting details. For instance, the character one will look something like this:
Ch 1: Introduce readers to the mc and world, show desire vs fear (internal conflict), make choices with delayed consequences later on, call to action
Ch 2: Competition stage 1. Mini cave-of-time within this competition, show the main competitors and set the tone for the rest of the competition.
Ch 3: Competition stage 2. Mini cave-of-time within this competition, convey the theme through showing what atrocious acts mankind is capable of, and play into the mc’s misbelief. End with the misbelief stronger than ever.
Ch 4: CS 3, same structure, show the mc acting on this misbelief, making choices which lead to the dark disaster moment at the end of this chapter.
Ch 5: CS 4, same structure, mc realizes the flaw behind the misbelief and can either continue to believe in it (corruption arc) or relinquish it (redemption arc). Also thematic plot twist happens here.
Ch 6: Mc finds out the truth about [spoiler for upcoming contest] and can either choose to act on misbelief or realize how her journey has taught her the truth about it. Heavily influences epilogue.
Cave-of-time: I’m not the most well-equipped to talk about this, but I’ve halfway written a cave-of-time storygame up to around 50k words until I decided to put it on hold for this contest. However, my plan detailed the different branches, where they’ll split, and the overall theme of each (since I view cave-of-time storygames as different mini-stories, each with their own completed route and death endings, although some of them share beginnings and several scenes). But feel free to plan it however you’d like, separating it into different ‘sections’ you’ll finish by self-imposed deadlines, and set a timer to prevent yourself from going overboard.
3. The ‘detailed’ outline
Up until now, most things have only been loosely planned. As a plantser, this is usually enough, since I discover a lot of interesting character details, unplanned plot twists, and new actions my character would take when I delve into my writing. But if you like planning, then here’s the thing: you don’t have to plan everything from the get go. Just envision the prologue or first scene in your mind, using that as the ‘plan’, then write it out in bullet points/ short paragraphs. There’s no point in planning chapter 4 in its entirety if you still haven’t gotten past chapter 1 (and besides, your story might not go in the direction you think it would).
I tend to keep the ‘detailed’ outline in my mind (e.g. how many scenes, main moments in each, etc) before I write each specific part, but sometimes my plans shift drastically and I can either allow it to happen, or write it out and then change it later if I don’t think it’s a good idea. So only come up with a detailed plan for each chapter or scene right before you write it, rather than detailing the whole storygame at the start.
This is also where fixing all the plotholes come into play. In your detailed outline, feel free to deviate from the document where you wrote down everything and choose only the most relevant details you want to focus on in the storygame.
One final note on planning: It is not a substitute for writing. While creating plans for your storygame is useful, do try and keep this separate from your writing sessions to prevent being in the planning, daydreaming mode when you ought to write instead.
I usually create a detailed plan in my head during my ‘break’ times (like at lunch, in the shower, when I’m unable to sleep, etc) but when I write, I trust myself to have full confidence in my plan, at least until I turn on the editor mode and decide whether each scene is good enough to keep.
Now we’ve gotten past the planning stage, it’s time to actually write the storygame. Tbh, this is the part where my perfectionism is the worst. Let’s just say that after writing a good number of featured storygames, I’ve begun to worry about living up to my past works and I’m constantly worried that Dreamtruder may have been my peak (because even now, it’s still my highest rated storygame, but that could be due to it being the first storygame people use to see when they clicked on the site).
But enough about me. Let’s dive into some tips that have helped me greatly with this on a day-to-day basis.
1. Remember your past failures
Ok, this is a bit of a strange one. But trust me, it works wonders when you’re anxious. Rather than working through the perfectionism, first ask yourself, “do I even really need this storygame to be perfect?”
One of the main reasons perfectionism started impacting me in this contest is due to my past storygames. When I wrote the others, I was a bit younger, and didn’t feel any pressure aside from getting words down and enjoying the process immensely. But now, being more involved in the CYS community, it feels as if I’ve got to constantly live up to this expectation of being the ‘productive’ writer everyone knows me as.
So that’s when I think of my past failures. If my past self could write badly proofread epics with unrealistic dialogue and awkward prose (which are all actual comments I’ve gotten btw, and I do agree with them) and still get my storygames featured, how much is this better proofread work with more attention to characters, prose, and plot capable of?
Maybe you don’t have crowning stories to speak of right now. But that’s fine. Remember: you can only get better than where you are. Even if that story isn’t perfect, if it’s better than your previous one, consider that good enough. At least people can only say you’re improving. And let’s be real, no one expects anyone to just become the new EndMaster out of the blue, so you don’t have to worry yourself about unrealistic expectations like that. Just write, and aim for progress over perfection. Then maybe someday you’ll be able to achieve those previously out-of-reach expectations.
2. Reframing what success means
Instead of telling yourself to write 100k word epics or 8k words in a day, start small. Set goals like ‘writing every day’, ‘maintaining focus in a writing sprint’ or ‘finish this plot point by the end of this day’. Not only will you focus on something much more tangible, like progress instead of ‘quality of writing’, but it would take your focus off perfect prose.
For example, when I focus on completing a chapter in a day, my priorities would be writing quickly and getting my thoughts down on paper. This leaves me little time to think about whether the words I’ve written are good enough. And since I can always edit later (which brings me to the next point), there’s no need to get it perfect the first time around.
A quote from a famous author (I forgot which) says that if you spent a day on bad writing, it wouldn’t be any different from spending time not writing at all. This helps me take the pressure of worrying about needing to heavily edit or redraft a scene to the point where I don’t write at all.
3. Set time for editing or second drafts
I’ve found having edit sessions before my writing sessions have been really useful. Not only would re-reading past scenes help me transition from the real world to the fictional one in my storygame, but it also ensures I don’t have to get it right the first time.
In the past, I hated drafting. I wrote my storygames directly in the CYS editor and thought, if I could do it well the first time, why would I need to re-write? But recently, I’ve found it liberating to write freely, knowing that messy prose and cosmetic issues would be resolved by a less-tired, more-focused me. This has helped me get out of a writing rut too.
And I guess the first-drafts-only approach I used in the past worked because I didn’t feel perfectionism as strongly back then. I used to have the ability to leave my overachieving self at school, but it’s begun to bleed into my writing more recently.
4. Set consequences
I’ve been attending a lot of virtual writing talks to procrastinate, and one thing they advocate for is setting consequences. I’ll explain a bit about why it works here (credits to Abbie Emmons, a writer who posts psychology-related writing tips on Youtube).
All humans make decisions based on what gives them the least pain. That’s why we procrastinate in CYS contests. Until the pain of churning out bad writing becomes less than the pain of not delivering a complete storygame for the contest, we do not start our entries.
But you can use this to your advantage. I’ve set mini-deadlines for myself and forced myself to write by essentially saying, “If you do not write Chapter 2 by this date, you will be unable to finish this storygame.”
Now obviously that’s not true, since like any other perfectionist I’ve got to have buffer days in case of emergencies, but I’ll mentally frame it so the pain of not writing consistently, leading up to an incomplete entry, is worse than having to write and rewrite again. But now I’m actually really behind schedule (even considering my buffer days) so maybe I’m not the best person to talk about this lol.
Let me repeat that: Make sure the consequences of not writing are worse than the consequences of bad writing.
The other writers in a talk I attended decided to give up their daily cup of coffee or tea each day if they do not reach their word counts. Thus, the pain of losing out on their coffee would hurt worse than the pain of forcing themselves to write, therefore making it easier for them to write. For me, I tend to give up checking CYS or the rumored Discord server if I don’t write, along with youtube, instagram, and pinterest (I spend way too much time listening to music, reading about writing tips from my favorite accounts, and looking at pretty wip-related pictures). It works best for me if the things I give up are also the things I use to procrastinate the most.
So if I don’t check CYS or the Discord, or if I’m online without doing anything except transferring new pages to my storygame, you’ll now know that means I’ve failed my writing goals for the day.
TL;DR - Strive for progress over perfection and adopt your own planning process. Also, read the rest of this post if you really need help with this topic instead of skimming the tl;dr, because I’ve spent way too long on it and I’ve got a really tight writing deadline to get back to. And no, I won’t be summarizing it for those too lazy to glance at the numbered titles. You’re probably not the type of people who are perfectionists anyway.
That’s all for now. Hope it helps any other writers struggling with perfectionism out there :)
If you're writing a novel, drafting would come at the end of everything else. But for this contest, I've decided to only draft weaker or important scenes instead of the entire written piece just because I don't have time to do the latter.
But it's possible to draft storygames at the end too. It would just be more work and you'll need enough time to re-read everything in the first draft before diving into the major rewriting, which is why I'll only use it on non-contest storygames.
Great post on how to organize your writing with a lot of good techniques and suggestions. I definitely need to work on being more organized.