6 Ways for Writers to Overcome Perfectionist Tendencies
There’s probably a typo in this post. An I’m okay with that.
The other day, I came across an old article I’d written for a magazine a few years ago. It had been some time since I’d finished the project, so I had forgotten what I had written.
I was utterly disgusted.
What was this crap? Who was this verbose, arrogant writer? And why was he over-complicating things? I couldn’t believe it.
But the truth is we all ought to feel this way about our past work. The trick is to not let your perfectionist tendencies hold you back from finishing your work.
The creative rut (and how to get out of it)
Everywhere you look, creative people struggle with liking their own work. This dissatisfaction occurs nearly every time I write something, and, it seems to be typical amongst many creative professionals.
- Directors struggle to watch their own films.
- Many artists can’t stand to see their work on display.
- Public speakers often won’t watch themselves on video or listen to their own recorded voices.
Why is this?
Many creatives are perfectionists. I certainly am. I’ve talked before about overcoming perfectionism but wanted to address the issue specifically from a writer’s perspective.
I’m learning to overcome this impediment to productivity by practicing six disciplines:
- Capture ideas. We struggle with perfectionism because we procrastinate. We waste time and feel like our work is never complete. So we get stuck. You can fight this by always having a few ideas in the hopper. Evernote is a great tool that allows you to quickly capture ideas and come back to them.
- Practice. Another reason we struggle with perfectionism is because we’re honest. Often, our work just isn’t that good. Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert, so how do we get better at writing? We write — a lot. Not in private, but in public.
- Wait to revise. The idea here is to not critique or edit until you’ve produced your first, terrible draft. Write that, step away, and return to it later. Good writing takes time, and instant genius is a myth. Get your first draft over with so you can write the next one.
- Ship often. Write every day. This keeps you honest and humble. Shipping means sharing a piece of your work with another human being. A great way to do that is through blogging, but there are other ways. We overcome perfectionism by embracing “good enough” so that we can get to excellence… eventually.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously. I need to lighten up more; so do you. Writing should be fun. Don’t waste your gift on a bad attitude; enjoy the message God has given you to say. And say it.
- Give yourself grace. You may not be that good at writing yet — so what? Are you going to wait until you’re amazing to share your work? You may never write a single word. Instead, submit to the process and kind to yourself as you go.
It’s about action
Ultimately, this is about moving forward, one small step at a time.
Commit to creating something every day, constantly capturing ideas and avoiding the temptation to edit as you go; don’t take yourself too seriously, and give yourself a break once in awhile.
You’ll get there. So will I. Until then, I hope to see some of your work-in-progress out in the world. And I hope you’ll be gentle with mine.
What other tips do you have for perfectionist writers? Share in the comments.
*Photo credit: Zach Klein (Creative Commons)