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Perfection? Forgetaboutit

summer flowers for freelance writersLast week I once again pointed to Stephen J. Cannell’s video on writer’s block. As I watched the video I chuckled – the truth is I wouldn’t recognize perfection if it knocked on the door and introduced itself. If you think about it, I’ll bet you wouldn’t either.

If you can’t recognize perfection demanding perfection in your writing is a loosing game; you’ll never be satisfied, you’ll never submit and you’ll be sure each client hates your work even when that isn’t true.

For example, a long-time writer friend of mine, a writer who has been published and has edited national magazines, continues to tell me he wants to write fiction. And in fact, unlike me, he has actually written a couple of novels. But he won’t show them to anyone, let alone submit them to an agent or publisher. Knowing his other writing my hunch is they are probably pretty good; he, however, is convinced they’re not and so they languish.

Or how about the new writer who has made some headway earning by writing for content mills and the $2-$5 per 500 word folks. It’s my contention that if you’ve managed to get two or three of these done and actually gotten paid it’s time to drop the mills and begin to move up, offering your work to both clients and to publishers. I can’t tell you how many of these folks I know who won’t budge. They would rather have the money in hand than risk being rejected because they aren’t good enough.

I’m not the only well paid writer who talks about the absolute futility of letting some notion of perfect writing stop you from getting workds on paper and out to the world.

John Soares has a great article on the dangers of perfectionism for freelance writers.

The Florida Writers Convention blog has a slightly different take called The curse of perfectionism and value of crap.



Jeff Goins subtitles his post on perfectionism with “there’s probably a typo in this post. An I’m okay with that.

Sure, we all want our writing to be good – good enough to be read and to make a difference for our readers.

I have yet to read a piece of writing that, in my opinion, couldn’t be improved. Recognizing that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy reading. Far from it. I’m truly grateful for those writers who have moved beyond their perfectionism and written anyway.

How do you avoid perfectionism in your writing?

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Image from http://www.sxc.hu


{ 18 comments… add one }
  • I think when you strive for perfection, you’re ultimately competing against yourself- a vicious circle. I’m only human, striving for “good enough.”
    Clara Freeman recently posted..How to Be an Authentic Leader- By Christine KloserMy Profile

  • Hi, Anne. I think the pusuit of “perfection” comes from the fear writers have of each other. We say we write for our readers — and we do– but we also write for other writers — our peers. And anyway, one writer’s sense of “perfection” differs from another’s, so it’s a senseless pursuit. When we realize this, we’re freed up to enjoy what we do.

    • Hmmm – hadn’t thought of that actually.

  • I’m not interested in self-publishing, but it’s very scary and intimidating to approach mainstream agents with a manuscript. Even if you follow all the rules, you keep hearing how notoriously harsh screening procedures are (as they have to be, given the huge amount of queries they get). One tiny mistake can doom you to the round file!

    After twenty-five queries of a novel my readers liked but they don’t, I’m ready to try a smaller press. Perhaps I might have more success there. But first, I need to fix several mistakes that six rounds of editing did not catch, yet my boyfriend, reading on his Kindle, did! Arrrgghh!
    Elizabeth West recently posted..Vocabulary: M M GoodMy Profile

    • Sounds right – finding mistakes in spite of editing. Chances are, if they were minor, they aren’t the reason for rejection… smaller presses sound like a good idea. Good luck.

  • Sometimes good enough is good enough – and you’ve got to let that piece of writing go so you can start another one. Thanks for pointing this out, Anne.
    Sharon Hurley Hall recently posted..Putting You in the Picture About My Blogging SkillsMy Profile

  • Hi Anne,

    Thanks for the post. It’s the kind of thing you try to keep in mind, but a reminder always helps.

    How I overcome perfectionism: 1) Set hard deadlines for each phase of the process. Leave the major tweaking for revisions. 2) Focus and trust my instincts. 3) Remember it’s not open-heart surgery.
    Michael Foreman recently posted..What a Copywriter Needs to QuoteMy Profile

    • I love that, Michael – “remember it’s not open-heart surgery…” great line and reminder.

  • I think this is what all writers are ultimately seeking. We improve as we go. There is no perfection as we each have our own styles, so the key is to compete against ourselves and become better!

    • Wanting to improve is rational – seeking perfection isn’t imo.

  • I see some of the same thing with people in various writing groups I’ve been in. They never actually finish the novels because they are extremely intent on “polishing” them… what are, in many cases, perfectly wonderful works pre-polish.
    Anne Woodman recently posted..Kid Fears Roll InMy Profile

    • It’s amazing how many writers or would-be writers fall victim to their notion of what’s perfect and never get there.

    • I have a good friend who’s been doing this for years… it’s unfortunate. I strongly suspect the book could be a bestseller in the sci-fi genre if she would just stop her relentless polishing and “fixing.” I’m honestly not sure if it’s perfectionism or fear in her case.
      Amelia Ramstead recently posted..Why You Should Switch to a Credit Union. Now.My Profile

      • Amelia, every time I find perfectionism stopping me when I look more deeply I find fear of one sort or another..

  • Thanks for the call-out Anne, though from the space of two months, I didn’t recall using a specific word as often as I did there.
    Chris Hamilton recently posted..Scott Turow doesn’t like the DOJ’s actions against Apple and PublishersMy Profile

    • Don’t you love it when you go back and read something you wrote months ago?

  • The quest for perfection kills many writing careers. Thanks for this interesting post Anne, and for linking to one of my posts.
    John Soares recently posted..Freelance Writer’s Guide to Library ResearchMy Profile

    • You’re welcome, John. It’s a good post as usual. Yours I mean.

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