Why writers need to kill their perfectionist ideals

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grumpy cat

Hi, my name is Krystina and I’m a perfectionist.

I’m so bad that I’ve written and rewritten, deleted and retyped the introduction to this blog post—oh I don’t know—357 times?

Even the headline makes my skin crawl.

But why is being a perfectionist so bad you ask?

Have you ever heard of the three P’s? Perfectionism, Procrastination and Paralysis?

procrastinating-writing-some-e-cards

Chances are if you’re a perfectionist you’ve experienced the other two symptoms. That’s because the real problem with perfection is that it doesn’t exist. And because the quest for it is always futile we end up procrastinating and eventually paralysing ourselves before we truly begin.

Because the quest for perfection is futile we end up paralysing ourselves before we begin Click To Tweet

Yet our society is obsessed with the idea of attaining perfection at every level and it creates all these impossible ideals that we’re meant to live up to. They infiltrate every aspect of our lives and we want our world to be completely without flaws, issues or problems (sounds like a completely boring novel to me!). We want the perfect job, the perfect partner, the perfect house, the perfect, perfect, perfect everything.

So no wonder we want to be perfect writers too.

But that’s never going to happen. And if you don’t believe me then just ask Neil Gaiman who said:

‘Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.’

Neil Gaiman said, 'perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving' Click To Tweet

In fact your attempts at perfection can actually kill your writing in the following ways:

  • You never get started because the idea isn’t perfect or because you think you’re not good enough to pull it off
  • You procrastinate instead of getting started and never write ‘the end’ on anything.
  • If by some miracle you do finish, you proceed to delete everything you’ve written or worse, burn the only hand or typewritten copy.
  • You never publish any blogs, don’t go after copy writing jobs and wouldn’t dream of submitting anything you’ve written to a publisher/magazine/website.
  • Your work is never the best it can be because your perfectionism causes you to leave writing it till the last minute.
  • You’re constantly stressed and anxious while writing and once you’ve shared your writing you’re constantly stressed and anxious about how it will be received.
  • Fear prevents you from sharing your work even with people you trust so you never get the benefit of their feedback.
  • If you do ask for feedback you get mad or hurt when someone points out a way you could make your writing even stronger.

SEE ALSO: Why all amazing writer’s need writing groups

  • Instead of writing you just read.
  • You compare your first draft to the published work of a Pulitzer Prize winning author.

SEE ALSO: How many drafts does it take to write a novel? And why it’s like cooking a baby (in a non cannabalistic way)

Does this sound like you? It certainly sounds like me. I wish I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve sent copy to a client, published a blog, or shared fiction with my writing group knowing that I could have kept editing it until the end of time.

editing-writing-some-e-cards

So what’s the cure?

Perhaps there isn’t one. But that doesn’t mean your writing is doomed! Here are some ways to get past the three P’s in your writing and discover the fourth—productivity:

  • Freewrite. At the moment we’re two weeks into NaNoWrimo and this is a great way to help overcome perfectionism. There is no possibility of having 50,000 words worth of work done by the end of the month if you’re constantly worrying about how well it’s been written.

SEE ALSO: A NaNoWriMo survival guide (how you can make it through the wilderness of literary abandon alive)

  • Set deadlines. This ties into the above idea. I know when I have a deadline looming I’m much more likely to sit down and just start writing. Sure, self imposed deadlines aren’t as motivating as client set ones but still, they go toward helping you freewrite your way out of self-created writer’s block (the only kind I believe there is).

SEE ALSO: 10 dynamite ways to blow up writer’s block

  • Try some techniques to silence your inner critic. Check out some of the methods I’ve tried—they might work for you
  • Admit you can’t see your work clearly. How many actors do you hear who can’t watch themselves on the big screen? Painters who’ve destroyed artworks and writers who’ve burnt entire novels? Get some advice from someone you admire on how to improve your writing before you give up.
  • Let it stew. Sometimes you can work on something for ages knowing a problem is glaring you in the face but not have any idea what it is let alone figuring out how to fix it. The best thing to do in these situations is to put whatever it is aside and come back with fresh eyes. You’ll be amazed at how the change of perspective can help you get to the bottom of things. You might even surprise yourself with some hidden gems you didn’t even know you’d written.
  • Keep reminding yourself that perfection doesn’t exist. And even if it did, it would be completely subjective.
  • Set realistic goals. By setting specific and realistic goals for your writing, you’re more likely to follow through and find success—and more importantly, happiness.

SEE ALSO: Frodo had goals and why you need them too on your writing journey

There’s a saying that when you insist on perfection you don’t achieve anything except for frustration. And I think this is true. Being a perfectionist means you can never enjoy your writing to the full because you’re too busy worrying about the fact that you don’t measure up.

As a perfectionist I often set myself up for failure because the goals I have in my mind don’t match the reality of what is actually possible. There is no such thing as a flawless piece of writing. I’ve never read one and I’ll never produce one either. But really that’s ok because at the end of the day what often makes something perfect is all the imperfections. Now if only I could follow my own advice…

What often makes something perfect is all the imperfections Click To Tweet

Does perfectionism hold you back with your writing? What are some ways you’ve gotten over it to reach a place of productivity? Let me know in the comments.

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