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From Paralysis to Progress: Defeating Perfectionism as an Author

Perfectionism is the nagging feeling that if you're not absolutely perfect at something you must be a failure. Perfectionism will paralyze us and make us afraid to try new things, lest we reveal ourselves as the frauds we fear we are. This annoying friend can also manifest itself as editing and revising a book to death, or even not being able to write the first word because it might not be perfect.

Perfectionism can show up in many aspects of your writing. For instance, you might find yourself constantly tweaking your sentences, always feeling like they're not quite right, even when they're perfectly fine. You may find yourself getting stuck in endless editing loops, unable to move forward because you're not completely satisfied with what you've written.

I was going to beg friends to help me with an example of perfectionism because this “totally isn’t something I suffer from.” And then, I heard my friends laughing at me. Seriously, I should just send them this paragraph and let them give me examples of my perfectionism annoying the crap out of them.

“What if my chapters don’t perfectly alternate from one character to the other? Will readers notice?”

Yes, Quinn, they might notice.

No, Quinn, they won’t quit reading your books because of it as long as you still tell a good story.

“Is it okay to have a super short chapter or one that’s way longer than the others?”

Quinn, if you’re writing a good story, readers won’t notice. Okay, so they might if they’re in a super long chapter at bedtime, but they’re going to keep reading. Shut up and write!

“Book one was 70,000 words but now book two is only 53,000 words.”

I think you get the picture. Perfectionism often manifests as things only we think about. Looking back, it’s all stupid, but in the moment, these worries became brick walls that kept me from moving forward.

Perfection Paralysis tip: If you find yourself falling into this cycle of questioning everything, change the question. Take a moment to reflect on whether this is something others are going to notice or if you might be turning a non-issue into a problem worth derailing your progress. If it is an actual problem, you can then start brainstorming how to get past it rather than staying stuck.

Striving for excellence isn't a bad thing. But when it turns into perfectionism, it can inhibit your creativity and productivity. It's important to recognize when you're falling into the perfectionism trap so you can find ways to use your desire to succeed into a tool that will help you.

Perfectionism tools you can use:

  1. Embrace Imperfection: We're going to start with the hardest tool first, apparently. But that's because it really is a great strategy. Every time you find yourself obsessing over the perfect wording (or perhaps what order five tips should be listed in) remind yourself that perfection is elusive. Understand that your work doesn't have to be flawless to have meaning.

  2. Set Realistic Expectations: Establish realistic goals and deadlines for your writing projects. Break down your tasks into manageable chunks and focus on making progress rather than obsessing over every detail. Focus only on what matters in the moment rather than letting your mind jump ahead to the finished product.

  3. Freewrite: Allow yourself to write freely without worrying about perfection. Give yourself permission to write a messy first draft and understand that the real magic happens during the editing and revision stages. If you can't subscribe to the messy first draft concept, word vomit something that has nothing to do with your WIP. Maybe you could let the words fly onto the paper or the screen with all the negative thoughts filling your head, simply to purge them from your mind.

  4. Limit Editing and Revising: Avoid getting caught in endless editing loops that prevent you from moving forward. Set specific editing sessions or revise after completing a full draft, rather than constantly tinkering with each sentence as you write. There was one time when I was so caught up in a spiral of editing the words I'd just written that I changed the font in Word to Webdings. It's hard to edit when all you see is little pictures!

  5. Seek Out Feedback and Support: I'm going to tell you a secret. You're not a burden. Your friends want to support you, and they'll understand if there are times when you need to lean on them. Share your work with trusted friends, writing groups, or beta readers who can provide constructive criticism and encouragement. External perspectives can help you gain a more objective view of your writing and alleviate unnecessary self-doubt.

Remember, the goal is to harness your desire for success without letting it hinder your progress. By implementing these strategies, you can overcome perfectionism and foster a more productive and fulfilling writing process.

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