How Perfect Can You Live With? Winning the Battle Against Perfectionism

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Despite how many times we hear the phrase “nobody's perfect” it seems as though so many people still strive for perfection. In everything. It really is amazing at how much we ignore this phrase even though we spout it off as complete truth. So many people get caught up in an endless battle against perfectionism.

The Perfectionism Paradox: Unleashing the Writer Within

Perfectionism often lurks as both a blessing and a curse. Perfectionism can be defined as the relentless pursuit of flawlessness and an aversion to any imperfections or mistakes. While striving for excellence is admirable, the impact of perfectionism on writers can be both profound and obstructive.

Perfectionism holds writers captive in a paradoxical web, trapped in this cycle of refining their work tirelessly, seeking brilliance and precision in every sentence.

That's not to say that writers are the only people who can get themselves stuck in perfectionism, but in many ways I believe the introspective nature of being a writer makes us even more susceptible to this trap. And if you want to make money as a freelance writer or write and publish your book as an author, it's a trap you're going to need to break free of.

The trap is that perfectionism can keep you feeling safe.

Especially if you allow it to hold you back from making a mistake.

If you don't get started on editing that book until you know you can devote the time and energy to do it perfectly, then you can't fail at editing it. If you don't get started marketing your writing services until you're sure you can write the perfect proposal, then you know you can't fail. If you don't sit down to write that book until you've got everything planned out, then your book won't be filled with plot holes and weird mistakes sending book reviewers into a tizzy about how something like this hit the shelves.

Reading it like this, the thought process definitely looks flawed. And it is. But at the same time, when it's going through your head, it doesn't seem quite as flawed. But believe me, it is.

The relentless pursuit of perfection creates an invisible barrier that prevents writers from fully tapping into their creative potential.

How Perfection Impacts Writers

The impact of perfectionism on writers is far-reaching, permeating every aspect of our craft. One significant effect is the paralyzing fear of failure and criticism that often accompanies perfectionist tendencies. Writers who succumb to this fear are plagued by self-doubt, second-guessing every word we write.

We become trapped in a cycle of rewriting and editing endlessly, never feeling satisfied with their work. Moreover, unrealistic expectations imposed by perfectionism can suffocate creativity like a tight corset constricting one's breath.

Every idea becomes subjected to intense scrutiny before it even has a chance to develop fully. The constant need for absolute flawlessness hinders spontaneous expression and inhibits out-of-the-box thinking that often leads to breakthroughs in writing.

When I wrote my book, Write Out Loud, I thought it was going to be so easy at first. As a ghostwriter, I've heard just about every fear that has stopped (or tried to stop) every writer. And yet because of my position as a ghostwriter and a book coach, I found myself editing every single passage over and over again until I was convinced that the book was no good and uninteresting.

I very nearly threw the entire book away.

In the end, I was able to set aside the perfectionism and get the book out. And I'm so glad I did because the reception of this book has been remarkable, more than I ever dreamed of. Every time a new author tells me that my book helped them, I well up with pride that I was able to help.

If I'd allowed my perfectionism to win, I don't think I would have been able to help the people I've helped.

    Unleashing Creativity Through Imperfection

    I said earlier that perfectionism can feel like it's keeping you safe from a bunch of things judgement, ridicule, failure… The truth is perfectionism also blocks writing productivity and creativity.

    Writing is an art form that thrives on experimentation, exploration, and self-expression. There's no such thing as “perfect experimentation,”, “perfect exploration,” or “perfect self-expression.” How can there be?

    The process itself is filled with imperfections, therefore imperfections are not failures, but stepping stones towards growth.

    It is through the acceptance of imperfection that writers can cultivate resilience, learn from their mistakes, and continuously improve their craft. In the subsequent sections of this article, we will delve deeper into the root causes of perfectionism in writers and explore strategies to overcome its hold.

    By implementing these techniques, writers will be able to break free from the shackles of perfectionism and unleash their true creative potential. Join us on this transformative journey as we embark on a quest to conquer perfectionism and reclaim the joy of writing.

    Understanding Perfectionism

    Exploring the root causes of perfectionism in writers

    Perfectionism, as experienced by writers, is often rooted in various internal and external factors. By delving into the underlying causes, we can gain a better understanding of why this behavior manifests and how to address it effectively. One major factor contributing to perfectionism is the fear of failure and criticism.

    Writers who strive for perfection often harbor deep-seated anxieties about their work being deemed inadequate or receiving negative feedback. This fear can be paralyzing, leading to self-doubt and an unwillingness to take creative risks.

    Another common cause of perfectionism among writers is linked to unrealistic expectations and self-imposed pressure. Many aspiring authors hold themselves to impossibly high standards, envisioning their writing as flawless masterpieces from the onset.

    Such lofty ideals create immense internal pressure that hinders progress and stifles creativity. In striving for unattainable perfection, writers may become stuck in a perpetual cycle of revision, unable to move forward with their projects.

    Furthermore, the need for external validation plays a significant role in promoting perfectionist tendencies among writers. Seeking approval from others becomes an insatiable desire that fuels the quest for flawlessness.

    Writers yearn for praise and recognition, often tying their self-worth directly to external appraisal rather than intrinsic satisfaction with their work. This constant seeking of validation elevates stress levels and intensifies perfectionistic tendencies which hinder creative expression.

    By recognizing these underlying causes – fear of failure and criticism, unrealistic expectations and self-imposed pressure, as well as the need for external validation – we can begin dismantling our own patterns of perfectionism as writers. Through targeted strategies aimed at addressing these root issues head-on, we can overcome our fears and unleash our true creative potential on the page.

    The Negative Effects of Perfectionism on Writing

    Procrastination and Writer's Block: The Paralyzing Fear of Falling Short

    Perfectionism can be a writer's worst enemy, manifesting itself as paralyzing procrastination and relentless writer's block. Writers who strive for perfection often fear that their work will not meet impossibly high standards or face harsh criticism.

    This fear, rooted in the desire to create flawless writing, can hinder productivity and stall progress. The constant need to achieve perfection becomes a barrier to starting or completing projects, leaving writers trapped in a cycle of self-doubt and avoidance.

    The pressure to produce exceptional work can lead writers to set unrealistic expectations for themselves. This internal pressure only exacerbates the problem, as perfectionists often hold themselves to impossible standards that no piece of writing can ever truly achieve.

    As a result, they find themselves stuck in a perpetual state of self-criticism and doubt. This overwhelming self-judgment stifles creativity and dampens the imagination that is essential for generating innovative ideas and crafting compelling narratives.

    Diminished Creativity: Setting Free the Imagination from Self-Criticism

    The pursuit of perfection tends to suppress creativity rather than fuel it. When writers succumb to excessive self-criticism driven by perfectionism, they become hyper-focused on every flaw or perceived imperfection within their work. Instead of allowing their ideas to flow freely, they constantly second-guess every word choice or sentence structure.

    This constant scrutiny stifles imagination and hampers the ability to explore innovative concepts. Creativity thrives when given the freedom to take risks and experiment without judgment or constraints.

    However, under the oppressive weight of perfectionism, writers become hesitant about expressing their unique voice or exploring unorthodox ideas. Consequently, their writing loses its authenticity and originality as they conform to self-imposed expectations rather than embracing the boundless possibilities of creative expression.

    Decreased Writing Speed: The Never-ending Cycle of Revisions

    Perfectionism often leads to an excessive focus on revising and editing, slowing down the writing process. Writers trapped in the cycle of perfectionism tend to over-analyze every sentence, endlessly tweaking and polishing their work, striving for that elusive state of flawlessness. This constant revising not only consumes valuable time but also impedes progress and completion.

    By constantly revisiting and reworking earlier sections instead of moving forward with new content, writers find themselves caught in a perpetual loop that hinders productivity. This obsession with perfection can result in an agonizingly slow pace, preventing writers from meeting deadlines or fully realizing their creative potential.

    It is essential for writers to recognize the importance of balance between refining their work and progressing through its various stages without getting stuck in an endless cycle of revisions. Perfectionism can have detrimental effects on a writer's productivity and creativity.

    Procrastination fueled by fear, diminished imagination from excessive self-criticism, and decreased writing speed resulting from constant revisions are all consequences of succumbing to the allure of perfection. By understanding these negative impacts and acknowledging the need to overcome them, writers can take necessary steps to beat perfectionism and unleash their full potential as expressive storytellers.

    Embracing Imperfection as a Catalyst for Growth

    Writing is an art form, and like any artistic endeavor, it is important to understand that perfection is an unattainable ideal. By embracing imperfection, writers can liberate themselves from the paralyzing grip of perfectionism and foster growth in their craft. Recognizing that no piece of writing is ever perfect or flawless is the first step towards a healthier mindset.

    Every author, from novices to literary masters, produces work that can be refined and improved upon. Mistakes are not signs of failure; they are opportunities to learn and improve.

    Instead of viewing errors or setbacks as personal shortcomings, writers should approach them as valuable lessons on the path to mastery. By reframing mistakes as stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks, writers can adopt a growth mindset that fuels their creativity and motivation.

    Setting Realistic Goals and Expectations

    In order to overcome the grip of perfectionism, it is crucial for writers to set realistic goals and expectations for their work. Breaking down the writing process into manageable tasks allows for a more systematic approach while reducing overwhelm.

    Rather than aiming for an entire novel in one sitting or expecting flawless prose with the first draft, setting smaller goals such as writing a certain number of words or completing specific scenes each day can make the writing journey feel less daunting. Furthermore, establishing achievable deadlines helps writers avoid prolonged revisions caused by perpetually chasing an unattainable standard of perfection.

    By setting reasonable timeframes for each phase of writing – drafting, revising, editing – authors can strike a balance between efficiency and quality. This approach allows space for creativity without succumbing to self-imposed pressure.

    Practicing Freewriting and Stream-of-Consciousness Techniques

    To loosen the grip of perfectionism, writers can benefit from practicing freewriting and stream-of-consciousness techniques. These methods involve allowing thoughts to flow onto the page without judgment or self-censorship. By letting go of the need for everything to be polished and perfect from the start, writers create an environment where ideas can flourish without constraints.

    Freewriting encourages spontaneity and raw expression by writing continuously for a set period of time, disregarding grammar, structure, or coherence. This technique helps writers access their subconscious mind and uncover hidden gems amidst the unfiltered thoughts.

    Similarly, stream-of-consciousness writing invites a direct connection between thoughts and words, allowing ideas to unfold organically without interruption. Both approaches provide fertile ground for creativity to thrive without the burden of perfectionism.

    Tips for Overcoming Perfectionist Tendencies

    • Embrace the Power of Imperfection— Breaking free from the shackles of perfectionism requires a shift in mindset. Instead of striving for flawlessness, embrace imperfection as a natural part of the creative process.One effective tip is to give yourself permission to make mistakes and embrace them as opportunities for growth and learning. Remember that even renowned authors and literary icons have faced rejection and criticism along their journey. By accepting that no piece of writing can ever be entirely perfect, you allow yourself the freedom to experiment, take risks, and explore new creative avenues. Another powerful strategy is to challenge your inner critic by consciously celebrating imperfections within your work. Rather than immediately editing or discarding passages that don't meet your initial expectations, try reframing them as unique and authentic expressions of your voice. Embrace the quirks in your writing, as they can add depth and originality to your work.
    • Practice Self-Compassion—Perfectionists often struggle with self-judgment and harsh self-criticism, hindering their writing progress. Cultivating self-compassion is crucial in overcoming these tendencies. One helpful technique is treating yourself with kindness and understanding throughout the writing process. Recognize that you are human, with limitations, vulnerabilities, and moments of uncertainty. Instead of berating yourself for not meeting unrealistic standards, practice self-acceptance by acknowledging your efforts and progress. Additionally, incorporating regular self-care practices into your routine can help combat perfectionism's negative impact on creativity. Engage in activities that rejuvenate you mentally and emotionally such as meditation, exercise, or spending time in nature. By nurturing yourself holistically beyond writing alone, you create a healthy balance that allows for greater creativity and diminished perfectionist tendencies.
    • Seek Support and Feedback—Challenging perfectionistic tendencies can be a daunting task, but you don't have to face it alone. Seeking support and feedback from trusted individuals can provide invaluable perspectives and encouragement. Consider joining writing groups or workshops where you can connect with fellow writers who understand the challenges of perfectionism. Sharing experiences, tips, and struggles with like-minded individuals can foster a sense of community and empower you to overcome self-imposed expectations. Furthermore, soliciting feedback from trusted beta readers or critique partners can help you gain a fresh perspective on your work. Constructive criticism allows you to see your writing through different lenses and recognize that imperfections do not equate to failure but rather opportunities for growth.

    Winning the Battle Against Perfectionism

    So, what do you do when you get stuck in pursuit of perfection? Stop and ask yourself:

    How perfect can you live with?

    Even perfectionists know they can't be 100% perfect 100% of the time. So what can they live with? My answer the first time I asked myself was 98%.

    What's your answer? Take your time and come up with something honest. And be honest. If you just don't think you can live with something less than 98% perfect then say that. There's no sense in lying to yourself here. Now, here's how knowing this number will help you.

    At 98%, I am giving my self permission to completely muck up 2% without stressing out over it.

    How does this help? Easy…

    Every time I screw something up to the point where I just can't even look at it anymore, I just tell myself “we'll count that as part of my 2%”.

    I'm telling you, it's freeing. It might take some getting used to, giving yourself permission to mess up like that. But after a while, you'll be able to relax more and more and you'll find it easier to forgive yourself for the 2% of the time you're not absolutely perfect.

    So, as a recovering perfectionist, I hope this little tidbit helps you get out of the perfectionism trap.

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