“I’m just a perfectionist, you know?”
We’ve all used this to excuse our bad habits, maybe even to pat ourselves on the back for tackling those extra edits. But perfectionism really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and it can seriously damage your productivity and performance as a writer. Overcoming perfectionism isn’t easy, but it’s necessary.
Recognize How Perfectionism Hurts Your Writing
The problem with perfection is that nothing is ever truly perfect, especially something as subject as writing. Your work will never please every person on the planet. It may not even please everyone in your neighborhood. That’s okay. The problem most perfectionists face is excessive self-critique. Even if the rest of the world did, in fact, love your work, you never would. There would always be a tighter phrase, a stronger image, or a better piece of dialogue.
That attitude actively harms your work. First of all, perfectionism can give you writer’s block. If you must wait for the perfect time to write, then the number of words you put on the page will be few and far between. Since we all know how important regular writing is, it’s easy to see how this harms your chances of success. If you ever manage to actually finish a first draft, perfectionism keeps you locked in an endless cycle of edits. After that, perfectionism discourages you from sharing and publishing your work, and since a story that never reaches the audience is never really completed, then you essentially never finish the project.
Give the Soup Time to Simmer
Perfectionism leaves most writers staring at a blank page and an endlessly blinking cursor. As counterintuitive as it sounds, this often stems from lack of preparation. Don’t save all your planning and consideration for the hours dedicated to the physical act of writing. Good ideas need time to percolate, and even if you like to fly by the seat of your pants, you can’t think through complex topics during a single sitting. You can actually turn procrastination time into something productive. If you like to do housework or errands when you’re supposed to be writing, then keep your mind as busy as your hands so you’re more prepared the next time you sit down to actually write.
Turn Criticism into Something Positive
Fear of criticism is one of the chief reasons perfectionists refuse to share their work. Helpful suggestions or questions transform into vicious, personal attacks. To overcome perfectionism, you need to accept criticism. Feedback – positive and negative – is vital for your development as a writer, and it will actually help your story become better. Remember that this isn’t your only story, and that you won’t be able to please everyone. Most importantly, keep in mind that there’s nothing necessarily wrong with your story itself, only the individual words used to relate it to your audience. Criticism will help you adjust the words so your audience will better understand what you’re trying to say.
What perfectionist tendencies are holding you back? Do you hesitate to share your work? Have you never actually finished a project? Take back control.