This is my love letter to you, because I am one of you. I work long hours, I reread my prose and judge it to death, and I stare at a sentence until it bends to my will. I am a perfectionist, a planner, and an editor to my bones. And I barely have any finished novels to my name.
This isn’t something to be ashamed of. You should never be ashamed of your writing habits. What you should be is aware of them. Every solution begins with awareness: once you recognize something about yourself you want to change, you can start the steps toward changing it.
To all my fellow writers who will settle for nothing less than perfect, here is how I let myself let go of the crushing desire to be flawless.
I’ve been writing since I was eleven or twelve years old. At first, I would write self-insert fanfiction and show it to my friends, and thankfully, they were all very supportive and excited about it. Even though I can look back on it now and think it’s terrible, at the time I was proud of it. Having others who were excited about it only fueled the writing flame within me, and allowed me to pursue my passion.
As the years went by, I got better and better, learning from experience. As I kept writing, I would notice what worked and what didn’t, or I would try to copy the style of a writer who I liked and see what I could glean from that.
And I would look back at my writing from a year, or even a few months ago, and cringe. That’s horrible! I would think. And I showed that to people? I can do so much better.
These weren’t bad thoughts to have by any means. Sure, I was being a little down on myself, but it was overshadowed by my desire to get better. Instead of judging myself, I would just write something better, be proud of myself, and move on.
A month or so later, the process would repeat. Read, cringe, write, pride.
The thing is, when you’re first learning how to write, your progress comes so quickly that it’s easy to be proud of what you’ve written, because it’s easy to see how you’ve improved. You can look at your work from a year ago, compare it to now, and see that you’ve improved by leaps and bounds.
But as with anything, you’ll hit a plateau. Writing is no different than any other skill in that way. Progress will show itself so slowly that it’s almost impossible to see.
I haven’t noticed significant changes in my style in years, even though I’ve still been writing constantly. I find myself using the same descriptions, phrases, even character tropes that I always do, and I get so down on myself for it.
But you know why that is? It all comes down to perfection. Here’s how.
There’s one thing that perfectionists are terrible at doing, and that is trying new things. Why? Because perfectionists hate failing more than anything else, and trying something new will almost always result in an instant failure.
Think about it. Let’s say you always write high fantasy, full of elves and dragons and huge amounts of worldbuilding. Then, you’re faced with a modern day teen romance. No creatures, no swordfights – none of the things you’re good at!
Trying something new, that’s totally out of your element, can feel like staring into an abyss. Where do you even begin?
That’s the thing. That’s where we perfectionists give up – before we’ve even started. Because we don’t know how to begin, and therefore we don’t know how it’ll end. We can’t plan properly, and that scares us. We don’t want to dive into those dark waters and take the risk.
And that’s okay! Being a perfectionist comes down to personality, and that’s something that’s almost impossible to change.
However, let’s say you’re like me. You do more editing than writing. You spend more time staring at blank pages than filling them. You daydream about what your book will look like on a bookshelf instead of actually creating it.
To my fellow writers who will settle for nothing less than perfect, here is my advice to you.
Read a book in a genre you’ve never read
If you always read romance, read some literary fiction. If you always read science fiction, read a mystery novel. Sit with a new genre and see how it works. See what characters are presented, and how they’re different from the ones you write. See how setting is described, and it plays a role in the plot. See the new ways the plot is unfolded, how it twists and turns or even stays stagnant. Even if you hate the book, you will learn so much for sticking your toe in another genre. Bring what you liked with you into your own writing, and learn from what you hated.
Spend a week with daily writing prompts
A quick Google search will yield hundreds of these. Instead of picking which ones you like the most, use a random number generator to pick for you, and force yourself to write at least a page on the prompt you’re given. Again, even if you hate it, you’ll learn so much! You’ll stretch your imagination like a muscle you haven’t been using and put it to work. It’s an exercise for your creativity!
Anything – a short story, a poem, a chapter, a novel. Once you complete something, it becomes infinitely easier to do it again. The first time is always the hardest. Finish that project you’ve been putting off to prove to yourself that you can do it. It doesn’t matter if you’re not happy with the end result. What matters is that you did it. Revision exists for this very reason!
Go back and look at your oldest story
Remind yourself of where you started. But this time, don’t judge. Don’t think oh this is awful.
Instead, think: Wow, look how much I’ve grown.
You’ve made so much progress since you first started. You’ve learned so much, practiced for countless hours, and improved so drastically that it’s hard to believe. Be proud of yourself again.
We perfectionists have our own set of trials and tribulations to go through, that’s for sure. But stepping outside of your comfort zone, even in the smallest of ways, can help you in a million different ways, even beyond writing.
To my fellow writers who will settle for nothing less than perfect, I love you. And I can’t wait to see what you accomplish.
This article was originally published on Authorish.