For most writers, a little perfectionism isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The drive to create stories, poems, essays, and books that are perfect can propel a writer’s skills from “just okay” to “stellar”—and ultimately publishable.
But perfectionism also has a dark side: If you’re a perfectionist writer, you probably agonize over every word each step of the way. Your inner critic is an ogre. No matter how often you rewrite and revise, you’re unable to accept that a given piece is done, and so you don’t submit it for publication. Or maybe you shy away from sharing your writing at all, convinced of its inadequacies. The process that should be a fun, joyful, and creative experience instead becomes fraught with worry and imagined disapproval. When perfectionism is at its worst, it leads to writer’s block (Such as: If I can’t write anything good, I won’t write at all).
When the pressure to be perfect is overwhelming, try some of these encouraging techniques.
Be yourself. If you’re constantly measuring your writing against another author’s work or trying too hard to match a certain writing style, you may be stifling your true voice. Remind yourself that you are unique, and so is your writing. Trying to compete with another writer’s work doesn’t make creative sense.
Share your work. When it’s just you and your writing, sometimes that overly critical voice in your head is all you hear. Make a point of sharing your work with other writers, beta readers, critique partners, and writers groups, and ask for their opinions. It’s hard for perfectionists to accept constructive criticism, but practice makes perfect! And you may find a source of positive reinforcement that will keep you motivated and moving forward.
Remember that tomorrow’s another day. Sometimes, perfectionists will work themselves to the point of exhaustion—and beyond. If you’re exhausted and you’re still writing anyway, chances are you aren’t doing your best work. So when you get tired, give yourself a break.
Let your right-brain creativity run wild! When you’re feeling burned out or discouraged, try a session of free writing. Just sit down and write—don’t let your left-brain critic obsess about punctuation, spelling, or direction, and don’t try to force your words—let them flow! If you can recapture the joy of writing, you may be able to release some of the pressure you put on yourself.
Relax…breathe… You will survive. Need an easy, quick fix when you’re feeling overwhelmed by the pressure to be perfect? Simply ask yourself: “If my poem is rejected… If I don’t publish this short story… If my novel isn’t complete by the end of the month… will I literally die?” This simple question can help put things back into perspective. No, you won’t die, your family won’t disown you, and the sun will continue to rise each day.
Feed yourself a steady diet of internal encouragement. It is perfectly okay to make mistakes, to be imperfect. And it’s okay to slow down a bit to enjoy the process of writing without worrying about the results. You may need to repeat these truths several times a day until they become internalized. Tame your nit-picky perfectionism with a dedicated, daily use of writers’ affirmations.
Know when to let it go. If you’re prone to excessive perfectionism and you suspect you’re suffering from an especially bad flare up, take a step back from your writing. Our article, It’s Time! How To Stop Revising And Start Making Submissions, can help.
If you’re still feeling discouraged or on the brink of writer burnout, check out our e-book for writers: The Happy Writer: Your Secret Weapon Against Rejection, Dejection, Writer’s Block, And The Emotional Pitfalls Of The Writing Life.
Photo by kugel
QUESTION: Are you a perfectionist? Do you find a perfectionist’s attitude helps or hinders the writing process?
Yes, I’m a perfectionist, and so I have to make sure to re-balance my work ethic by going overboard into the opposite direction: I sometimes remind myself to work sloppily (but quickly)!
Most people err on the opposite side though – they just don’t set the bar high enough for themselves.
So in the end, it’s like a tightrope act: Be perfectionist enough to make your texts really good in every aspect, but don’t obsess about perfection so much you think a non-excellent text makes you worthless as a person.
You need a certain state of relaxation to get good work done as well.
I am also perfect which can be a real bind. When I need to be imperfect I have some European beer and watch lots of old cartoons. Works every time. Reach for the stars!
Great advice! Thanks.
I’m so happy to see this article! I finish the beginning and the end in record time, but I need the middle to be perfect!
I want it to hold the reader’s attention, and make them hold their breath while they read every page.
That’s where the block comes. Doubt fills my mind with every word.