I’m a Perfectionist. Here’s How That Affects My Writing

Writing is not always easy for me.

My name is Meg. I am a perfectionist.

As a writer and editor, I wish I could say this is all good all the time. I rarely submit drafts with grammatical errors, I sweep through others’ work tweaking the tiniest flaws. I’m a little too organized, I never forget dates, I rarely miss deadlines.

But I use rarely purposefully here. Because as great as it often is to be able to achieve all these things, it takes me longer than it should to do them. I get frustrated when I feel like I’m falling behind. I get even more frustrated when I’m waiting on other people to be able to check off tasks. I don’t always take negative feedback well (internally). In striving to be better than I’ve ever been, sometimes, I just fall flat, because trying to be perfect — trying to do the impossible — is exhausting.

I have not finished writing a novel since 2015. I cannot finish, because I do not want to “finish”an imperfect book. It scares me. Well, I suppose I will finish eventually, but barely.

At some point, something will happen, and I will miss publishing a post and ruin my over two-year streak. Yeah, that also terrifies me, even though logically I know it does not matter.

I don’t even notice anymore how often I hit backspace when I’m typing. When I’m collaborating with a team member and they’re watching me type, I get self-conscious about even that.

Sometimes, I am a mess. But I’m learning to live with that.

But the more I do what I do, the more I’m reminded there is no such thing as a perfect draft. Mistakes mean we’re human. No one really cares if you look or sound dumb, nothing is fully controllable 100 percent of the time, and sometimes, technology just shuts down and dies.

Such is life. I am a learner. If I struggle, it is because I’m learning. If we struggle, it is because we’re growing.

If you relate to any of this, know that it’s not going to go away. It’s always going to be something you struggle with, even if only from time to time or with certain things. But I don’t tell you this to discourage you. I tell you this so you’ll stop letting it control you.

First, the more you practice just letting certain things go, the easier it is to see that one mistake does not equate the apocalypse. Second, don’t let it be a barrier. Barriers force you to stop. Treat this like a climbing wall you have to scale every time you come to it. It’s harder, it takes more time, but it’s worth it. Because on the other side, you have something you can be proud of. You can hand your work off to someone knowing that if it isn’t flawless, they’ll help you get it as close to perfect as it needs to be.

There are pros and cons to the way my and your brain works. Being detail-oriented and organized is one of the greatest assets a writer/editor can have, especially in your early days as a professional. I know it’s easy to only focus on the bad, the negative, the inconvenient. But that’s because treating your flaws as weaknesses is just part of your personality. It takes a lot to overcome the fear of admitting your weak points. But try to see this as something good.

Trying to be perfect all the time, especially when you’re working, is exhausting. Don’t let it wear you down or wear you out. You’re only at your best when you’re not trying to be THE best — at least not all the time. Relax. Let the draft go. Write first, edit later. Take only as much time as you want to, and nothing more. And most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy what you do. In my experience, enthusiasm makes everything easier — even when things are harder than they should be.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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2 thoughts on “I’m a Perfectionist. Here’s How That Affects My Writing

    1. Sammmmmme. I’m usually happy with the result if something takes a long time, because it means I really took the time to make it as good as I know it can be. But at the same time … deadlines. lol.

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