Battling Perfectionism

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“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.

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  1. A wailing author on

    I’m so sick of losing the battle against myself.
    I’ve just got to accept that this is where I am and that that’s okay.
    If I’m going to have a chance at turning this into a living, making money and then trying to save the world, I need to accept that I haven’t actually started yet. Everything I’ve done til now has been fantasy, constantly redoing things because they’re not perfect and never finishing drafts as a result means when you think about it, I haven’t really started writing. Not yet. Not really.
    My writing’s probably a bit shit, but I’m not going to get better if I don’t accept that, finish a draft of that and then show it to others, have their feedback – even if they come back saying it’s a bit shit – and working on it from there.

    I’ve been psyching myself out of writing for all these years, like telling everyone you’re running a race but getting so distracted with stretches that I never actually approach the starting line.

    It’s crazy.
    It’s ridiculous.
    It’s absurd.
    It’s human.

    Thanks for the article, will do my best to try and fix my futur– no, fix my present! And then through the present work on the future!

    • The writer’s journey is a challenge for sure, but it’s a supportive community. Maybe consider joining a chat group or writing group? Have you loaded any of your work to Inkitt? You’ll get feedback and it doesn’t have to be perfect.

  2. Thank you very much!
    I guess we’re used to thinking that the more times you edit it, the better it will be, but you’re right on saying it can lower a lot your performance as a writer. Just keep on going!
    All the best, Vanessa

    • Nicholas Delkeskamp on

      Hi Vanessa,
      Thank you very much for your thoughts. If you re-read it over and over again and change small things or parts completely it can lower your performance in my opinion. If you have a valid reason though why you need to change it again, it can be valuable. Maybe you need to rewrite a part after writing a later chapter and you need to introduce something earlier again, or you have data or valuable feedback on why the part might not be as good as it could be.
      That is just my opinion though.
      Best, Nico

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