Is Perfectionism Holding Back Your Writing?

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Quick Tips for Perfectionists

Stop me if this sounds familiar: You get a great idea for a new writing project, but then, you’re not sure where to start. You buy a bunch of books on writing, read about the genre, start to outline, and then…maybe that’s not a good idea after all. Maybe something else is a better idea. So you start that, but…yeah, you never finish it, either. Could perfectionism be holding you back? Might you fear that writing something bad is worse than writing nothing? If you’ve been struggling to get your writing career off the ground, maybe perfectionism is your enemy.

It’s True: Nobody’s Perfect

You know what Mom always said: nobody’s perfect. Well, it’s true! Writing is a messy process. It’s like the old saying goes, we write to edit. That means writing is the creative but imperfect practice. Doing it “wrong” is part of the deal. Maybe a character falls flat or a scene is slow. Maybe you’ll ultimately need to cut entire chapters or rework your opening sentences fifty times. That’s okay! Everyone has to do it—even the “greats.” Remember, nobody does everything right the first time…or the third. You don’t have to either.

Go for a Growth Mindset

Perfectionism is sometimes seen by the perfectionist as a good thing. It’s a sign of high standards, right? Only the best will do. That sounds discerning rather than limiting. However, it’s a sign of a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset means someone sees things like “talent” or being “good” as something inherent, immobile, and unchanging. An author’s either “got it” or they don’t—and if they don’t, why bother?

I recommend leaving this staid point of view behind. Instead, adopt a growth mindset. People with a growth mindset ask what they can do better, seek improvement, and know they can learn over time. Someone with a growth mindset gets things done, even if they still need work. A growth mindset means that practice and effort can overcome any initial deficiencies.

Is Perfectionism Sneaking Up on You?

Some of us can show perfectionist tendencies and not realize it. See if the following sound familiar.

Do you procrastinate? You know you really should be working, but everything else is more important. And you can justify it, too. The laundry does have to be folded. The day job must be attended. The kids have to be fed. Homework technically should be done. Aren’t these legitimate excuses? They’re excuses all right, and maybe the ones that justify you not working.

Are you indecisive? Do you tell yourself it’s not procrastination or perfectionism, but rather it’s way more legit: you’re waiting to “figure it out.” You simply want the muse or the right time to get the whole thing worked out in your head. Once that happens, you’ll get to work.

Do you over or under prepare? You might still be working on the outline six months from now or declare yourself a “pantser” and then write yourself into a wall. These are other sneaky ways that perfectionism can trip you up.

There Are Solutions

If any of this sounds familiar, take heart. There are solutions. The first step is, as always, admitting you have a problem. And then, you have to tell yourself you can change because you can. That is the growth mindset, remember? Give yourself structure. Make a writing schedule and stick to it. Finally, embrace progress over outcome. Measure success with effort, and in time, success will arrive. Happy writing!

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About Author

Mary is a young adult writer and archaeologist. By day she teaches at a local college, and by night she writes about the adventures of adolescence.

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