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How Perfectionism Can Ruin Your Writing

perfectionism can ruin your writing

Do you long for ‘perfection’ in your writing? If you do it’s because you don’t understand how perfectionism can ruin your writing.

Yes, ruin it.

Years ago I heard Tony Robbins say of perfectionism something like “there’s no evidence procedure for it – you can’t tell if you get there.”

The picture that appeared immediately in my mind was of being surrounded by balled up pieces of paper, anyone of which might have had some ‘perfect’ writing, which I didn’t, couldn’t, recognize because when I told myself the truth I had absolutely no idea what ‘perfect’ writing might look like.

So what is perfection anyway?

Merriam-Webster defines the word perfect  as

: having no mistakes or flaws

: completely correct or accurate

: having all the qualities you want in that kind of person, situation, etc.

Okay writing can, at least in theory, have no mistakes, be completely correct or accurate. But flawless? What does that mean? Do the qualities I want in writing mean anything? And ‘qualities’ is a pretty fluffy term that can be stretched any number of ways in this context. Both flawless and qualities boil down to someone’s opinions – hardly a criteria you can use to measure your writing (or anything else).

Perfection is an illusion

The whole notion of something being perfect is a total illusion. Think about it. Many people would, for example, consider a bird perfect. From a distance, that seems true. What happens, however, if you look at it really closely like you might in a lab. You’ll find some imperfection in the form of a ruffled or even missing feather, a notch on the beak that isn’t natural, maybe a few mites or other critters crawling around. The same is true of a child. Their eyesight might not be 20/20, or they might have a scar from some previous injury. Heck, they might be allergic to peanuts – a serious condition you can’t see.

Bring the same sort of close inspection to a favorite paining or musical recording and your sure to find at least a few ways they are not quite perfect.

In other words, there is no such thing as perfection – or maybe it’s the imperfections that makes it so.

How does trying for perfection ruin your writing?

There are all sorts of ways reaching for perfection can get in your way and ruin your writing. Here are my favorite four:

Stops you from starting

An idea pops into your head that you recognize has some potential as a book or an article. Instead of writing it down you tell yourself it would be too hard, you don’t know enough and such so you never even start. You’re in the perfection trap.

Stops you from completing a draft

The idea excites you and you begin to write. Then the perfection demons pop into your mind with their messages of defeat and gloom. You let them bog you down and never finish the draft.

You finish the draft but…

You actually get a rough draft finished, but when you turn to the editing and rewriting every successful writer needs to do. Either you just put the piece aside or you start and become discouraged and quit.

Or you keep editing and rewriting in a never ending cycle – you’re trapped trying to make it perfect, which can’t be done. Consider accepting the imperfections and move on.

Stops you from submitting

You finally declare it done! But instead of sending it off you decide to wait another day ‘just to be sure.’ The next day you begin to pick it apart, or you become embarrassed or decide you’ll never get it done well enough for acceptance. The bid for perfection has stopped you cold.

Do you begin to see how perfectionism can ruin your writing? While you write well, with as few mistakes of any sort as possible, the drive for perfect, if you don’t find a way to let it go, is apt to stop you from writing at all. While it’s hard to get worse at something you practice, not writing guarantees no progress.

I finally boiled all this down to a single statement:

I wouldn’t know perfection if it knocked on the door and introduced itself!

That pretty much helps me to get off the false goal of perfection when it does strike. It also explains the woodpecker door knocker I just love the look of.

BTW, you can become part of our truly supportive writing forumexplore and join.

Write well and often,





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