‘You cannot let the need to be good stop you from trying. A lot of my content is garbage when it first comes out, but I am willing to stare the garbage in the face and make it better.’ – Taylor Jenkins Reid.
Having high standards can be a positive trait, pushing you on to continually improve your work. Perfectionism, on the other hand, involves setting unrealistically high (or completely unattainable) goals.
Put off writing due to fear that their work will never be good enough.
Continually re-write and re-edit, deliberating over simple sentences and delaying finishing their work.
Often feel like a failure and have the sense that they are disappointing others and themselves.
Perfectionism is an irrational way of thinking can result in you feeling depressed, angry, frustrated and anxious. Perfectionists tend to constantly criticize themselves for doing a less than perfect job, even after spending significant time on a task. They hold themselves back from finishing tasks, then feel stressed out by the fact that they are not achieving their goals. Over time, perfectionists may even start to believe that they are not as capable as others. If perfectionism is preventing you from making progress, try the following tips:
Start before you are ready
If you are constantly waiting for the right conditions: the perfect desk with just the right amount of natural light, a day of complete freedom where you are free from all responsibilities, then you will never begin. There is never a perfect time to start writing and if you are completely honest with yourself there is usually a reason why you continue to put off your writing. For most writers, that reason comes down to fear. Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of what others will say. The only solution for this is to begin, no matter what. Set yourself a deadline to put pen to paper and stick to it. Create rituals for yourself as a way of preparing for writing, make a cup of coffee, clear your desk, then set a timer and don’t let yourself stop writing until it finishes.
Change your all or nothing mindset
Perfectionists tend to believe that anything short of a literary masterpiece is a disaster. It’s a perspective of extremes where everything is either ‘excellent’ or ‘terrible’. Such thinking is unrealistic. No writer ever completes a perfect manuscript in the first round of writing (otherwise there would be no need for editors). In reality, writing is a process. Is your first draft going to be great? Maybe not, but the more you write the more your writing will improve. Give yourself permission to write badly. Focus on progress over perfection. Writing the first draft, even if it’s barely readable, is better than writing nothing.
Reassess your goals
Are you writing goals achievable? Could you break them down into smaller mini-goals? Perfectionists tend to set goals that are unrealistic (or completely unattainable) setting themselves up for failure and disappointment. Think about your writing project in baby steps. What is the easiest thing you could do first to make progress on your work? Achievement drives motivation so aim to spread out your project and build up momentum as you go.
Perfectionists struggle with prioritization. It’s impossible to do everything perfectly at the same time. The key to success in almost every endeavor is knowing what is important and what you can let slide. Keep in mind the 80:20 rule, that only 20 percent of the work you do produces 80 percent of the results. Identify and focus your time on the most important tasks, rather than spreading yourself thin trying to do everything. Not everything has to be done impeccably. It’s fine to do some things to the level of ‘good enough’ so you can move on to other tasks.
As a writer, you know how satisfying to have a flash of creative inspiration and feel that you just can’t type the words fast enough. A good writing day or hitting a milestone you’ve been working towards is the perfect cure for self-doubt. So open your manuscript, set that timer and start writing.
Celebrate small successes
Take the pressure off achieving your big goals by focusing on and celebrating the small goals that are going to get you there. It’s hard work to make progress when you are a perfectionist so pause along the way to celebrate every small win.
Finally, embrace imperfection
Get comfortable with the idea that your book is not going to be ‘perfect’ but if you continue to show up it will continue to improve. Write for yourself, without editing and second-guessing. Give your mind time to wander and explore random ideas. Allow yourself to write badly. No one else has to see your writing unless you want to show them and the majority of authors have drawers full of poorly written manuscripts they will never show the world. Start where you are with what you have and embrace the failures as well as the successes.