Today, we dive into the deep waters of perfectionism in writing. Very similarly to last week’s post on impostor syndrome, I have to tell you that dealing with perfectionism and writing is most effective when it is not isolated to one area of your life. Because chances are, if your perfectionist nature is holding you back in creative writing, it also affects other aspects of your life. Everything is connected, folks.
But don’t worry. I’m going to share some, hopefully, helpful advice about dealing with perfectionism and overcoming it. So unclench your jaw, relax your shoulders, and take a few breaths. Now let’s dive in.
Perfectionism and fear of failure
You know the good ol’ advice on what to say in a job interview. They ask, “What is your biggest flaw?” And you should answer, “Oh, I don’t know. I’m a perfectionist, I just want things to be too perfect.” Like, ha ha ha. Because that’s supposedly a virtue in disguise, it shows you’re a hard worker, and your employer doesn’t care about your mental well-being, right?
Because the truth is, perfectionism in an unhealthy manner can be damaging af. Most probably, it will actually cause procrastination due to an overwhelming fear of imperfection. So let’s not underestimate it and let’s deal with it together.
Tips for dealing with perfectionism in writing
DISCARDING BLACK-AND-WHITE THINKING
If you are like me, you have a tiny voice that has convinced you that for every task you set out to achieve (say, writing a story or a novel), there are only two possible outcomes: you succeed perfectly without any mistakes or YOU ARE A TOTAL AND COMPLETE FAILURE AND AN ABOMINATION TO HUMANKIND.
It’s not hard to imagine the pressure that kind of belief can put on someone. So the first step would be to start recognizing that it’s not true. It’s simply not true. And the truth is, you are not a total and complete failure no matter what you do.
The voice is lying to you. Why that is, I have no idea. I invite you to pay attention to this voice and see when it pops up. Then say, “Thank you, but you can f*** off.” Or, well, any other variant of that. Recognizing this train of thought and finding a way to deal with it without trying to suppress it is one of the key things you can practice in order to overcome paralyzing perfectionism. Or just to deal with it in a way.
And the next step is to start nurturing a new voice, a voice that is kind to you and that encourages you in a supportive manner.
One of the worst things about being an overachieving perfectionist are the moments of spiraling into catastrophic thinking. Which, again, we can contribute to that annoying little voice.
This is the train of thought that imagines all the possible ways the world will come to an end if you do not achieve the task perfectly. For example, if you do not write the novel in time. Or if someone doesn’t like your story. Or if your stage play’s first draft needs revisions.
One of my favourite ways to deal with that is to find my way back to the present moment.
Find your way to ground. Be it through practising mindfulness, singing, visualizations, affirmations, yodelling for all I care. The most important thing is that it brings you to the present moment and prevents those vicious thoughts to take you on a downward spiral. Then you can focus on the next point:
TAKE IT ONE WORD AT A TIME
Remember to take it one step at a time. One word. One sentence. One paragraph.
This is all connected to staying present in the moment and focusing on the task at hand. And not letting that voice get to you. That voice that you might actually think is you or your thoughts. But it’s not you. It’s a voice that has been planted in you by whoknowswhat and you can totally beat it. I believe in you.
EMBRACE YOUR FLAWS
Last but not least, learn to recognize that mistakes are actually a good thing. That is how you learn, that is how you grow. As a writer, as an artist, and as a person. So embrace your creative flaws (including perfectionism) and go ahead and write a bad novel! It will be a thousand times better than a non-existent one.
You’ve got this.
Let me know how you are dealing with paralyzing perfectionism writing-wise or in general. I hope the tips above help!