Attention to detail is important. An out of place phrase or a grammar mistake can take a reader out of your book for good. Perfectionists often take more time to complete their work, but the books they present to the public are typically rich, detailed and accurate. I've always admired the pursuit of perfection. It's just not for me.
I'm hard wired to think big picture. Thinking big picture means I tend to ignore smaller details and focus on my work as a concept. I love coming up with ideas. That's the easy part for me. I've been a pantser for many years because it seemed like the quickest way for me to actually get the idea down on paper. As with anything, moderation is the key, and thinking big picture 100% of the time can you leave you wanting to start a brand new project instead of finishing the old one. I'm learning to incorporate some attributes of the detail-oriented thinker to make my work more well-rounded.
If you're too far on the perfectionist side of the spectrum, you may benefit from trying to think big picture a little more often. If you find yourself stuck on the same work for years and years, learning to think big picture may help you out of your rut. Here are some tips for changing your thinking process.
1. Think About Results
While a perfectionist tends to think about everything that could go wrong, a big picture person focuses on the results. Consider your next writing project. Instead of worrying about how much research you'll have to do or the money you'll need to save up for a cover designer, write down five benefits that could result from you starting and finishing this project. These results could include financial gains, getting a better foothold in your genre, impressing your friends or anything else that's important to you.
Focusing on where a project can lead you is the best way to ignore the potential issues that may pop up along the way. Every book comes with its problems. Perfectionists anticipate and plan for these pitfalls, but that can slow down the writing process to a crawl. Attempt to keep the potential end results of a book in mind to get yourself to the finish line at a record pace.
2. Look for Overall Balance
Back in my improv comedy days, one of my instructors scheduled a sit-down with each of his students to tell them their strengths and weaknesses. He told me that my strength was seeing when a show was becoming too one note and making the necessary changes. The writing equivalent of this would be following up a longer chapter with a shorter one or a long dramatic monologue with a punchline. Assessing the overall balance of your piece is all about stepping back and sensing the rhythm. You don't want to lull your readers to sleep with the same thing over and over again. You want to surprise them and keep them engaged. Fixing a sentence here and there can help, but more impact is likely to come from shifting around paragraphs, scenes and maybe entire chapters.
Chart out what the different scenes in your book represent. They may be action scenes, romantic scenes, character building scenes, etc. If you have too many of the same kind of scene in a row, consider changing them to vary up the rhythm of your book. By concentrating on your book in terms of these larger chunks, you'll be more likely to think big picture.
3. Skip the Busywork
When I stumble upon a part of a book that may take me a long time, I try to assess if that portion is worth the effort. Sometimes this section is so key to my overall project, it's worth the research, the man hours and the perfectionism. Other times it's just me trying to self-sabotage and slow myself down. Momentum is important for any book, and that's why you need to consider coming up with a workaround for any time sucking parts of your project.
When you come to such a turning point in your book, create a simple pros and cons list about whether or not the section should be included. If there are more pros than cons, go ahead and try to finish it as quickly as you can. If there are more cons, brainstorm a workaround or a way to condense the section into one scene, paragraph or aside. No scene is worth derailing your entire project for. Skip the section and keep the ball rolling.
4. Surround Yourself with Trustworthy People
One of the reasons detail-oriented writers take so much time with a manuscript is that they don't trust anyone to catch the errors. Aside from the Shakespeare play Coriolanus, I've never heard of a one-person army succeeding. If you want to finish your project, you significantly increase your chances by trusting others to help you.
Search for beta readers and critique partners to read your work. Meeting in person or through a Google+ Hangout may help you to determine if you want them to be a part of your merry band of readers. And from the perfectionist's perspective, another pair of eyes may also catch something you never would have seen in the first place.
5. Set Big Goals
If you want to think big picture, you need to set down some big goals. Predict how many words your project will be. Figure out how many words you can write per day. Count out the number of days you'll need to finish the book and circle the final day on your calendar. It will be a challenge to finish your first draft by the circled day, but as a recovering perfectionist, you need work hard to keep yourself focused on the endgame.
Push yourself to stick to your daily word count. Fight to get something finished by your goal date, even if it's a really terrible first draft. You can always revise, share the book with your beta readers and hire an editor to patch it up. But nobody will ever write your first draft for you. Setting a specific and challenging goal may be just what you need to make your book happen.
It's OK to fail. I think that perfectionism comes from a fear of failure, even though failure is something we should celebrate. A broken project that didn't work is just one more way not to build a lightbulb. It's one step closer to creating a book that does work. I'll take a massive failure over a tiny success any day. A small victory may make me feel a little bit better about myself, but I'd much rather have three or four major mistakes on the way to an ambitious, successful and memorable book.
Bryan Cohen is the author of more than 30 books, many of which focus on creative writing and blasting through that pesky writer's block. His books have sold more than 20,000 copies. You can find him on Google+ and Facebook.