I'm at my best when I'm either writing or editing a finished piece. Which was why I spent the better part of last week completing my first revision of Sleep to Dream, the quiet supernatural thriller disguised as a love story that I penned during National Novel Writing Month in November of 2012. It was obvious when I was reading through it that it was a first draft. I'm used to first drafts. I understand that they are a means to an end when writing a novel. But I fear that some writers aren't able to see them for what they truly are—a rough layout of what the story will eventually be.
I've been there—rereading the same damn paragraph for the hundredth time, trying to figure out what's wrong with it. Is it a word that needs to be changed? Is it a phrase that needs to be rewritten? Or does the entire paragraph just need to go? These are valid ponderings, yes, but they are best left for revision. Why? Because if you spend all day trying to get that one paragraph just right, then all you'll have at the end of the day is one good paragraph. And chances are, you'll still find something wrong with it in your next revision.
Whatever you're writing, it doesn't have to be perfect the first time around. More than likely, that book on your desk or coffee table or bookshelf isn't a first draft. I think it's pretty safe to assume that every single book in your house had at least some level of revision before it went to press. Knowing that, why would you expect to have a story absolutely perfect before it's even written?
I understand the pursuit of perfection. I understand the strange balance of self-loathing and confidence that most artists possess. And I definitely understand what it's like to realize that, while I'm not the best writer in the world, I have strengths that set me apart and justify the time I've sunk into my craft.
A first draft is just a first draft. What you're creating is beautiful and important, but it doesn't have to be perfect right now. Take the pressure off, sit down, and put some words on paper. I think you'll be surprised by what you can accomplish once you accept that sometimes imperfection is okay.