Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Writer's Block: Beating Perfectionism

If you read my last post on writer's block, you'll know I identify the affliction as the "anti-muse". Well, my anti-muse is perfectionism. Perfectionism is a two-sided coin a lot of people suffer from. On the one side, if your anti-muse takes the form of perfectionism, you probably pay attention to the intricate details of your writing. You self-edit before you show your work to the world. You nitpick the grammar and the intricacies of your characters. It can be a virtue a lot of the time.

On the other side of that coin is the character flaw we wish we could erase. Perfectionism probably means you edit as you write - even as you write your first drafts. You sit down for three hours but only come up with a paragraph - albeit, a well-polished one. You never think you're good enough. You might spend more time planning than writing. It can be nasty. It definitely slows your work down, and it can make you afraid to experiment. I deal with all of this every time I sit down to write, and I've thought long and hard on how to fix these flaws.

If you suffer from bouts of perfectionism as well, I suggest you heed the wise words of renowned author Anne Lamott:

"Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life..."

As a perfectionist, here are some things I remind myself of every time I write:
  • Good writing is good editing. Very few people can write a solid second or even third draft. Almost no one can write a publishable first draft. After you're done writing, you're going to have to edit. It's when you'll catch mistakes, rectify those mistakes, and add consistency and flair to what you've already created.
  • You don't have to show anyone your work until you're ready. Self-set deadlines like "I want mom and my best friend to read my work by June 3rd", are more like guidelines, as some pirates would say. Goals are great to have, but if you aren't comfortable with your writing, it's not ready. Take a breather and remind yourself that it's okay to extend your own deadlines.
  • Shitty first drafts. Another awesome piece of advice from Anne Lamott: "The first draft is the child's draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later." It's okay for your first draft to suck a little. Everyone writes shitty first drafts, and understanding that can help you tuck the perfectionism away for a little while. (I also write shitty second drafts. And shitty third drafts).
  • You're learning as you go. Mastery takes time. Some people write better first drafts than others, just like some people write better than others. As you work through the kinks of dealing with perfectionism and feelings of inadequacy, you're getting better. Keep at it, push through, and keep being awesome.
Are you a fellow perfectionist? How do you handle the stress of needing seamless perfection in your writing? Let me know in the comment section below!