Does anybody remember those timed skills assessment tests in high school? The ones with hundreds, dare I say, thousands, of O’s on page after page with a few C’s thrown in? Well, I hated them because I rarely finished before the teacher called time. And, since they said they were timed, finishing was important, right? I had a good friend who almost always finished these kinds of tests, and of course I thought she was a lot smarter than I was because of it.
Turns out that even though I didn’t get through with the tests most of the time, I usually found more C’s than she did. So, she was fast and could get done on time, even if she wasn’t that accurate. I, on the other hand, rarely finished, but the sections I got through were pretty close to being accurate.
I really wasn’t the fastest typist in the world either. Why? Because they had to drag me out from under my desk every time I hit the wrong key. Okay, that might be a stretch, but as someone whose natural bent is accuracy over speed, I had to force myself to try to type really, really fast and ignore the typos if I wanted to make a decent grade. Ouch. Typing class. A very traumatic experience.
Fast forward a few years (oh ten, fifteen years… tops) after those high school years and I still struggle when it comes to accuracy over speed. Why can’t I have both? Why can’t I just spit out a blog post in thirty minutes, or a chapter on my novel in a matter of hours? It’s rare that we find someone who can “bring home the bacon AND fry it up in a pan” and do both equally well, but it seems that we as authors expect it of ourselves. I know I do.
First and foremost, our first priority is to our books, so we either have to improve our productivity or learn when to step back from obligations that overwhelm us. So, what are these other obligations? Blogging, interviews, Q&As, interacting on social media, book signings, conferences, speaking engagements all fall under the "work" of a writer. Those activities take time, and they’re valuable to an author as a marketing tool, but some of us detail-oriented folks find ourselves spending way more time on them than we should when we really need to write.
I’ve known friends who take 8-10 hours to write a blog post, and I'm amazed when someone can just whip one out in a matter of minutes. I personally took several hours to write a four sentence endorsement. I was in a hotel room in
(and I’ll be BACK there in a few weeks…ACFW,
here we come!) at the time with another author. She couldn’t believe it was
taking me so long to write a measly four sentences, but I wanted that endorsement to be
just right…memorable. Finally, it clicked and I was able to send it off.
Otherwise, I guess I’d still be sitting there scribbling away. St. Louis
I don’t know all the answers for getting all the “writerly” tasks done on time, and done well, but a few of the Seekers and I have a few tips for the detail-oriented among us that might help us all up our game.
Missy Tippens, a goal-oriented Seeker, said, “I'm a natural perfectionist who plots and plans and frets before I ever start. But I've had to try to learn to limit that tendency because it really slows me down. I'm trying to force myself to jump in and get going. Especially for proposals, figuring once I make the sale I can spend more time to get the story exactly the way I want it.”
First, if you’re detail-oriented, don’t wait until the last minute and pull an all-nighter like a ninth-grader writing her first term paper. Write out the rough-draft of your blog, interview, answer that Q&A, work on that speech you're scheduled to give to the lady’s luncheon in two months. Just get it out there, as messy as it is. The sooner, the better. The old saying of “you can’t fix a blank page” applies to extra-curricular writing tasks as much as it does to your contracted novel.
Julie Lessman says, “HA! I’m “born with it,” all right — a CDQ (caffeinated drama queen) personality that also suffers from MSD (Martha Stewart Disease). Which means I’m a “detail-oriented perfectionist” who has actually piped dinner guest’s initials in their twice-baked potato — now that’s true anality! Which is why I generally only write one book a year. BUT … I know I am capable of “fast and furious” because I wrote my 2nd book, A Passion Redeemed (580 pages) in one month (two months working part-time, actually, which full time would be one month), so I have it in me. I just wish it would come out a little more often … :)”
Julie has the passion and the perfectionist part down pat, and she can be fast-and-furious when the need arises. Hopefully she’ll join us today and share her secret for how she accomplished all that in two months!
I love this answer from Mary Connealy, who seems to be on the opposite end of the spectrum: a fast-and-furious writer who gets things done at warp speed. (Mary has been known to email me and ask about this or that deadline, or for a copy of some email that she knows I kept, so I know of whence I speak.)
Mary says, “I am, honestly, utterly disorganized. I am a woman who can't find the clothes she planned to wear, or realizes they're in the wash. I forget the perfect pair of earrings purchased specifically for this [or that] outfit. I get asked to do some simple thing and it bounces off my brain and into the stratosphere. It's some kind of learning disability. (I'm saying that to keep from having to take any responsibility)
But when it comes to writing, none of this seems to apply. I don't have to fight my nature. I don't forget or ignore. I get my books done ahead of time, every time. Same with revisions and galley edits. I put in the time daily, always, to get my 1000 words written. The only reason I can figure out that I'm so different with my writing than EVERY OTHER ASPECT OF MY LIFE is simply that......I love it.
I love writing. I love being published. I never, ever, ever get over being HONORED that a publisher has advanced money to me and signed a contract with me. This is my dream come true and I am so grateful it happened and I simple LOVE IT!”
From the feedback from these Seekers, and what I know about myself, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that a detail-oriented perfectionist’s greatest stumbling block is getting embroiled in a project (research, balancing the checkbook, reading/editing a blog post, etc.) and surfacing hours later, and realizing that you just spent a whole day researching the life of a gnat and you're not even writing about gnats!
The second problem for perfectionists is fear which manifests itself in procrastination. The savvy author who’s been around for a while doesn’t let fear rule them and they do as Missy said, they start and they keep going--early and often.
The biggest hurtle for the fast-and-furious person who races to the finish line (and I’m guessing here since I am NOT this person!) might be the time it takes to polish their projects after the fact. And researching gnats because they failed to do it first. Please, people, get your gnat research in order!
We all come to the table with different skill sets, and each of us have to figure out our own way to get everything done, but the answers I received from the Seekers taught me one thing—actually, I already knew it—but their answers just reminded my head what my heart already knew...
The Seekers and friends might not have been born with it, but baby, we've got it in spades.
What is it?
It is passion, determination, and grit to go out of their comfort zone and get the job done no matter what it takes.
Oh, and my friend from high school? She ended up managing a deli at a very busy grocery store and I ended up in computer science and crunching numbers. Appropriate, huh? Pam Hillman lives and writes in Mississippi. The Evergreen Bride (White Christmas Brides), coming soon! www.pamhillman.com