By Laura Garcia
Perfectionism in writing. It’s a contradictory statement at best, and a lie at worst. Writing isn’t a science, it’s an art. Perfection is subjective and striving for it is not only futile but damaging. It can cause stress and burnout, not to mention being counterproductive.
Perfectionism isn’t the pursuit of perfection, but fear masquerading as high standards. We fear being seen as less than, being vulnerable, opening ourselves up to ridicule and judgment. We lack confidence in our skills and faith in the process. And so we find ourselves washing the dishes, going to the gym, running errands, anything but sitting down to write. Once we manage to push through and start writing, we find ourselves over editing, never quite getting to the finish line. We blame perfectionism when in truth it’s our fears putting up roadblocks in the name of self-defence.
So how do you conquer this demon? You don’t. You learn to recognise it, understand it, and then arm yourself with tools to manage it because this is a fight that will last a lifetime.
How Perfectionism in Writing Manifests Itself
- Writers’ block
- Failure to keep on task
- Unending edits and rewrites
- Difficulty completing projects or meeting deadlines
- Fear and stress over publishing work
- Experiencing stress or anxiety
- Dissatisfaction with the quality of your work
- Feelings of failure
How to Manage Perfectionism When Writing
- Find the core of your fears. Journal, meditate, or brain dump. Understand what you are afraid of, challenge your thinking and release your fears.
- Practice, practice, practice. Commit to a daily target, and then hit it, even if it means saying no to going out for a drink.
- Try different styles of writing. Push yourself to go outside of your comfort zone, outside of your “niche”.
- Establish a support group of writers to edit and review your work, as well as to help motivate you and call you out when you are slacking.
- Trust your instincts, they are most often your best work.
- Allow your first draft to be free-flowing and avoid line editing too early, this will impede your rhythm and hinder your thought process.
- Know when it is time for a break and take them. Clear your thoughts and come back rested and with fresh eyes.
- Remember to step back and take a look at the big picture, are you meeting your goals? Are you focused on your target audience? Are you using the correct voice, tone, and style?
- Drop your ego and separate the writer from the writing. Be open to criticism, it is how you improve.
- Learn to expect and respect failure for the growth and lessons that it provides.
- Not every piece is going to be a masterpiece. Know when to call good enough, good enough.
Realize that every song may not be your masterpiece. That’s ok. Brian Wilson could only write God Only Knows once. McCartney had Yesterday. So much of their subsequent work is scrutinised through the lens of the greatness of those songs and certainly some of their work DOES reach that high bar. Some does not. But that certainly didn’t stop them from releasing mountains of material that we still continue to discover and marvel over to this day. They kept exercising their craft and didn’t get bogged down worrying about “is this as great as…” So what are you waiting for? Go be creative!” – Andy Timmons
And as with all things, be kind to yourself. Give yourself grace. Learn to trust and have faith in your abilities and the natural flow of things. The words will come, the quality of your work will improve with time and dedication. You can not muscle your way into perfection so relax, breath, stop reading, and go write.