Overcoming Perfectionism in Writing: Tips to Conquer Your Inner Perfectionist

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Overcoming Perfectionism in Writing: Tips to Conquer Your Inner Perfectionist

Crafting a captivating story is every writer's goal. We envision mesmerizing settings, compelling characters, and plots filled with twists and turns. In our minds, the narrative unfolds flawlessly, enticing readers to immerse themselves in our creations.

But when it comes time to translate our visions into words on the page, perfectionism often rears its daunting head! We become paralyzed by the belief that our stories must mirror the perfection we've imagined, fearing that anything less would be a disservice to our craft.

What causes perfectionism in writing?

Perfectionism is a common pitfall for writers, and it can manifest at various stages of the creative process. Whether it's the anticipation of tackling a pivotal scene or the pressure to deliver a climactic moment, the anxiety of perfectionism can stall progress indefinitely. It may cause you to procrastinate, give you a bad case of writer's block, or leave you staring at the blank page, unable to even start writing at all. Ultimately, perfectionism is caused by fear— that we're imposters, that we're not good enough, or that we'll try only to fail miserably.  

This paralyzing fear can lead to two distinct outcomes: either days pass without a single word written, or thousands of words are produced only to be discarded in pursuit of unattainably high standards of perfection.

Spoiler alert: perfection is an illusion. Even the best books have flaws.

We all know that in theory. However, there's a difference between knowing something in theory and facing it the moment you get stuck. So, how can you overcome your urge to be a perfectionist and keep moving forward in the writing process? Read on for our tips to kick perfectionism to the curb!

Tips for overcoming perfectionism

Think like a reader

Recall your favorite books and what made them memorable. It's unlikely that you reminisce about their flawless grammar or absence of adverbs. Readers seek immersion in a compelling story, not perfection. Remind yourself that your goal is to tell a good story, even if it takes multiple drafts to achieve. Good stories might take ten drafts, but you have to start with one. Just keep telling yourself your only goal each writing session is to tell a good story.

Find a cheerleader

A supportive presence can be invaluable during the drafting process, especially on days when you struggle to get any writing done. Seek someone who offers encouragement without critique, motivating you to persevere through the challenges. This can be a friend, family member, or another writer. You can also join a community of other writers, like the Writing Mastery Community, for support and advice throughout the writing process!

Focus on goals you can achieve

Whether it’s hitting bestseller lists, having a huge social media following clamoring for your next book, or winning prestigious awards, we all have our fantasy career achievements. And we have our perfectionism whispering to us that we’re not good enough to reach those dreams, so why bother starting?

Rather than fixating on lofty aspirations beyond your control, set attainable goals within your grasp. Is your goal to write a novel? Focus on meeting your daily word count goals, mastering a writing routine, and improving your writing skills. Monitor your progress diligently, celebrating each milestone as a testament to your dedication and growth.

Embrace imperfection

Perfectionism isn’t always a fear of failure, but it’s the culprit more often than not when it comes to writing. Why you’re afraid of failing is often individualized (like your characters’ personal traumas are individualized). But the only way to overcome perfectionism’s fear of failure roots is to let yourself fail and see that you can, and will, survive it.

This can be as simple as purposely not meeting your word count and breaking your streak. Sure, it’ll be disappointing, and you’ll want to push past it, but force yourself to sit with the feelings it causes. Disappointment, anxiety, anger—whatever you feel, it probably sucks. And then the next day, you’re going to realize that it’s okay. It was one day. One small failure. You can, and will, move on.

Make a mess in your first draft 

No one writes a clean first draft. There’s not a single author—bestselling or newbie—who writes one draft, sends it to an editor, and receives a “No notes!” response. Every piece of writing can, will, and should be edited. And they will still have typos in their finished books no matter how many sets of eyes read them ahead of time. There’s no such thing as perfection. 

Write the story. Write it as a fast draft and leave yourself a thousand notes in the margins. Write it as a zero draft that’s basically a long outline filled with placeholders and question marks. Write it by hand, so it seems less scary. You know your handwritten draft won’t be published as is. Give yourself permission to write badly so you can get the story out and have something on the page to work with. Tell your perfectionism that your only goal is to get the story on paper in some form. Maybe it will be terrible, maybe it will be the best writing you've ever done. Either way, it will be written.

Ready to overcome your struggle with perfectionism?

While overcoming perfectionism is a formidable challenge, it is not insurmountable. By implementing these strategies, you can liberate yourself from the shackles of perfectionism and embark on a journey of creative fulfillment. Remember, progress is incremental, and each step forward brings you closer to realizing your writing aspirations. So, embrace imperfection, trust in your creative process, and watch as your stories flourish in their authenticity.

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