In writing, as in any area of life, perfectionism is a killer. Writing is a wonderful metaphor for life. Writing matters. It illuminates, witnesses, takes us deeper into the experience of others, connects us with nature, humanity, ourselves. As in writing, so in life.
Writing is powerful and we want it to be brilliant. No writer should be content with dull prose clogged with adjectives and exposition. No writer should be happy with didactic, sentimental poetry. No blogger should want to bore people. But it doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it can’t be perfect.
Perfectionism relies on a plethora of false premises:
Failure is not an option
Of course it is. And failure is a great teacher. In the inimitable words of Samuel Beckett:
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.
If we fear failure we will never take the risks that lead to real progress.
You are not worthy
Feeling inherently not ‘good enough’ can lead people to making supreme efforts to fit in, find acceptance and love. The underlying thinking is that ‘if I’m perfect I won’t experience rejection’ but it’s false thinking. We’re all flawed and the writing we do will have flaws. It doesn’t make you an unworthy person.
You can never rest
On the one hand perfectionism leads to procrastination. We can’t fail at what we never begin. On the other hand it leads to a permanent state of anxiety in which we drive ourselves on, never able to rest.
Creativity, writing, any activity in life is unsustainable without periods of rejuvenation. You can and must rest.
Life is a puzzle with a solution
Writing in Psychology Today, Jennifer Kromberg says:
…being a perfectionist isn’t about things being perfect; it’s about thinking things need to be perfect and vigilantly pursuing it. Emotionally, this means that instead of living your life in a place of self-acceptance, perfectionists are on a continual treadmill chasing the elusive feeling of having everything in their lives be ‘right’.
You can do it all
As David Allen says in Getting Things Done:
You can do anything, but not everything.
We all have to make choices. If writing is essential to you, then you need to prioritise it, but that might mean you have to lower your standards in other areas. In Writing Wild Tina Welling talks a lot about lowering standards in order to do what she loves: write.
She suggests areas for lowering standards might include the car you drive, how much money you want, the clothes you wear, the amount of housework you can do… You might have to cut down on social media or phone apps or answering every email. You might have to miss some social opportunities…
It’s okay. You don’t have to do it all. To quote Annie Dillard:
It’s endearing how people think writers have time to dust.
Welling suggests we make a sign of this and hang it where visitors will see it.
Instead of falling for these false notions, we can replace the urge to perfectionism (in writing and in life) with progress, joy and kindness:
Craft not perfection: …
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