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The Secret To Overcoming Perfectionism In Your Writing

17 August 2016
 August 17, 2016
Category: Uncategorized

I was sitting in front of my pages the other day, trying to write a sentence that described my character feeling afraid. First I tried, “She shivered.” I deleted that because, hello cliche. Then I tried to give a sense of her being chilled without shivering. I toyed with words like frozen, cold, and stricken. Delete.


The more I thought about this stupid sentence, the more paralyzed I became. Five minutes later, I was the one who was feeling upset and frozen and afraid. 


Perfectionism is the number one killer of writing dreams. It operates on many levels and speaks in many tongues. It says things like….”Because you will never find the perfect words, you should write no words.” “Because your book will never be the amazing Pulitzer Prize Winner you imagined, it’s not worth writing.” “Because you’ve somehow created an illusion among your peers that you are a talented writer, they must not be permitted to see the lack of talent in your pages.” “Everyone else gets it right on the first try. You’re stupid.” And, of course, “If you fail, no one will love you.”


Perfectionism is a survival pattern that you think will keep you safe from rejection and hardship. But what it really does is keep you silent and stuck.


Here are my Secrets to Overcoming Perfectionism… 


  1. Give yourself permission to write badly. Every day.
  2. Understand that writing is a process, and that your first draft will be terrible. If your first draft doesn’t stink, you’ve got issues.
  3. Give your pages to people before they are good. Get used to shoving things out in the world when they’re messy, to get feedback. Notice that the world doesn’t end.
  4. Leave in a couple of typos.  Just to flex your anti perfectionist muscles (!)
  5. Embrace your failures and mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow. Nobody became a good writer by being perfect. Nobody. When something’s not working, dig deeper. How can you make it work? What can you do to fix it?
  6. Get out of your head. Walk in nature. Blast some music and dance. Move into your body.


Perfectionism, in its quest to keep you ‘safe,’ is really only keeping you from experiencing yourself fully as a writer. It’s often in the muck, in the bad lines of dialogue and awkward exposition, that we learn to find the silence, the images, the replacement gems. 


As Anne Lamott so beautifully says…

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”


Take Action! Embrace the joy in your messy pages. Know that you will have good writing days and bad. Lean into the latter with just as much acceptance and love as you do the former. Get out of your head and into your body.  You think it’s your head that’s doing the writing, but really, it’s your heart. Listen to its chaotic beat.


There is no such thing as perfect. There is only ‘aubergine’ and ‘purple’ and ‘plum.’ There is ‘wafting’ and ‘floating’ and ‘scudding.’ There are ‘dandelions’ and ‘crabgrass’ and ‘common chickweed.’ They are only words, there for your choosing.


Perfect is not something that exists outside of your pages. It consists simply of the choices you make on that day, on that page, in that heartbeat.




Happy Writing!

xo Pat

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