Almost all of the personality tests I've taken allude to my desire to be perfect. I'm a perfectionist writer. It is the way I'm wired, and it has a huge effect on my writing.
The word perfectionist can often have a fairly negative connotation. When I think of a “perfectionist” I often picture a meticulous, detailed, angry person sitting at a desk with a magnifying glass, pointing out my mistakes. But that's not all there is to perfectionism. Like everything, there are good and bad sides to it.
Even if you're not a full-blown perfectionist, you probably have some perfectionist tendencies, and I bet they influence the way you work and write. Let's deal with them.
The Positive Side of Being a Perfectionist Writer
I've found that being a perfectionist isn't always about being perfect but also about constantly wanting to improve and grow. The positive side of perfectionism is a motivating belief that our work, our writing, and ourselves can be made better daily.
I've found that my perfectionism comes from believing in something like this:
Almost every successful person begins with two beliefs: The future can be better than the present. And I have the power to make it so.
Perfectionists have the belief that we can constantly be making things better. Who I am will never allow myself to stop improving, or believe that “what I do now, and who I am now is good enough.”
For that, I am thankful to be a perfectionist.
4 Downfalls of Perfectionism in Writing
Although I believe being a perfectionist can be of great value, in writing, being a perfectionist can often be more harm than good.
1. Perfectionism Stops You From Publishing
Our perfectionism tells us, “This isn't good enough. Don't show this to the world. It's not ready.” We listen to our perfectionism and constantly rearrange sentences, change words, and stare at the same sentence for hours. We eventually get to the point where there's nothing left to “fix” but our perfectionism still tells us, “It's not good enough.” So we save our post as a draft, never daring to show the world our potential imperfections.
Solution: Just do it. Publish despite your fears. There are very few times in our writing lives that we'll think, “This is absolutely perfect!” So publish and learn from your mistakes.
2. Perfectionism Kills Your Productivity
Perfectionism never lets us finish. We get caught up on that one sentence, crafting it to perfection, and three hours later we realize how much time has passed. This happens to me with titles. Titles can be the most important part of our posts, but they're also not worth spending hours on.
Solution: Don't sweat the details. They're not as important as you think. Let me give you an example. Check out the first few paragraphs of this post. Do you know how long it took me to put those words together? Too long. How long did it take you to read them? Probably thirty seconds. You see, I could have re-written those few sentences for hours, but you still would have taken thirty seconds to read it.
3. Perfectionism Creates a Sad Writer-dom
When we post something that's not perfect (aka almost everything), we can be really hard on ourselves. We seem to forget that we're learning, growing, and becoming better writers. We forget how far we've already come.
Solution: Have grace for where you are today as a writer. Don't dwell on that typo you posted, or the comma splice you missed. It's okay. Allow yourself to make mistakes and get better.
4. Perfectionism Causes Procrastination
I hate procrastination, but when I do it, it's because I'm waiting for something to be perfect. When I procrastinated writing this post, it's because I was waiting for the perfect topic. Ironic, isn't it? We love to wait for the perfect time or idea to cross our minds to start writing.
Solution: This one piece, blog post, chapter, or book is not the end of you. You don't need to wait for the perfect idea or time, because most likely, this will not be your last. I took weeks to decide what to write my first book about, until I realized, “This is not my last book.” Don't wait, because that perfect idea might never come, and if it halfway through does, save it for your next project.
Which perfectionist downfall do you often fall prey to? Let us know in the comments below.
Be Free from Your Perfectionism
Seriously, if you haven't gotten the point here it is: to be a writer you need to let go of your work being perfect. I'm telling you that it's okay to be imperfect. It's not just me that's telling you it's okay: Ruthanne believes it, Joe agrees, Jeff Goins reminds you, and Forbes calls Perfectionism, “The Enemy of Everything.”
Even Hemingway so eloquently said,
The first draft of anything is shit.
So let go, and try using some of our solutions listed above. You have permission to try, possibly fail, and most definitely learn from your mistakes.
Remember the benefit of your perfectionism, too. Our perfectionism and constant desire to be better and improve our craft is an incredible motivation. We can learn great lessons from our perfectionism without allowing it to control us.
What do you think of your perfectionism? Curse or secret motivation? Let us know in the comments below.
Share with us something you've been working on, something that's unfinished and not perfect. Post it in the comments below.
Leave some writing encouragement for your fellow writers and say goodbye to the downfalls of perfection.
Kellie McGann is the founder of Write a Better Book . She partners with leaders to help tell their stories in book form.
On the weekends, she writes poetry and prose.
She contributes to The Write Practice every other Wednesday.