How to Overcome Perfectionism in Your Writing

Written by: Mary Yamin-Garone, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise

“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.”

--Brené Brown

Do any of the following apply to you?

  • You spend more time on a writing task than you should because you want it to be perfect.

  • You have high standards and sometimes will sacrifice your own well-being to complete a writing project perfectly.

  • You’re the first to find errors and correct them, knowing that finding mistakes in a completed project will drive you nuts.

  • You tend to reflect over past mistakes and always vow not to repeat them.

  • You rewrite and edit your work excessively, even before finishing your first draft.

  • You get caught up in fixing trivial errors.

  • You become frustrated by your writing output even though you’ve made significant progress.

If more than one of these describes you, you lean toward perfectionism. Related to more than that? You may be a full-blown perfectionist.

Don’t worry. I’m right there with you.

Perfectionists like us often get a bad rap but fear not; there are good and bad things about this trait. You’re most likely a determined, hard-working writer who’s constantly striving to improve your writing. You’re also probably good at editing your own work because you like finding flaws and fixing them.

But there’s no doubt that your perfectionist personality is also likely to make it difficult for you to open up time in your schedule to write.

How Perfectionism Can Hamper Your Productivity

Being a perfectionist may seem to offer some benefits, such as being more organized and having a keen eye for detail. On the flip side, that same trait has its drawbacks.

Here’s how perfectionism can hamper your productivity.

  • It may result in procrastination. Those who believe things have to be done only if they can be done perfectly often end up procrastinating (Guilty as charged.). They wait for that “perfect moment” to write but the “perfect” situation to write never comes. As a result, they don’t finish their project. If you keep delaying your writing, you’ll do nothing or next to nothing.

  • It can hamper innovation. In the search for perfection, innovative ideas are often destroyed. Too much time is wasted coming up with a new idea. However, the urge for perfect results in most of the ideas being discarded because they don’t seem perfect enough.

  • It’s subjective. After investing your time to come up with an idea, the ideas you generated may seem perfect to others. Unfortunately, a perfectionist will continue to make small changes and pick out bothersome details (that’s sooo me). All too often, perfectionists rely on their own definitions of perfectionism. The result is constantly working and reworking the same thing.

  • It can be extreme. In your quest for perfection, you’re wasting your time if you’re focusing too much on every detail. You’re also hindering your productivity.

So, as perfectionist writers, what can we do? Are we doomed, or can we adjust enough to make more time for our creative work?

How to Become a More Productive Perfectionist Writer

Remember the positive side to being a perfectionist. You don’t have to feel badly about this trait. Instead, you must learn to embrace it so you can accomplish more in your writing.

Find areas where you can loosen up. As perfectionists, we want everything to be perfect. Try to choose projects that don’t matter as much and practice letting them to be sub-par. Be sure to make time for your writing projects. Make a list of things that don’t need to be perfect and practice spending less time on them. Chances are won’t feel comfortable letting some projects go before they’re “ready.” You can, however, get better at it.

Practice being productive. Studies show perfectionists aren’t as productive as others. When you’re agonizing over a writing project, you’re slowing down and taking time away from other things (like writing 😊).

Shift your perspective. Perfectionism is a lens through which you can view your writing. The next time you start exhibiting perfectionist behaviors, take a step back and look at the situation in a more positive or forgiving light.

Set realistic expectations. Perfectionism can cause writers to develop impossible standards. Try reducing your expectations slowly. If you’re not satisfied unless you’ve written for 60 minutes, shoot for 50 instead. Setting goals based on input rather than output can relieve the pressure perfectionists feel to produce. Thirty minutes of good work is 30 minutes, regardless of how many words you can write or revise.

Purposefully fall short. Want to win your war against perfectionism? Try to deliberately fail to meet your expectations. Instead of writing 1,000 words, write 500. Set a timer for 30 minutes, then write as many words as possible no matter how it reads. During that time, you’ll learn that “failure” isn’t fatal. Rather it’s either a perception you can change or a misstep from which you can grow.

Forgive yourself. As a perfectionist, we ruminate over every mistake. Doing so can stress your mind. Instead, we must practice forgiving ourselves. That typo in your blog post? No big deal. Forgot to do a spell check? It’s not the end of the world. Your new favorite phrase should be “it’s okay.”

Make failing a game. Perfectionists fear failure. They take great pains to get everything just right, so we don’t fail. Make it a game to see how many mistakes you can make by trying new things more often.

Practice fooling yourself. If your perfectionist tendencies make you prone to procrastinate, find ways to kid yourself into starting. Tell yourself you’ll write for five minutes or that this isn’t the “real” draft but a “practice” one. Set a timer and don’t let your fingers leave your keyboard until it goes off.

Managing perfectionism is a lifelong process. Your perfectionism most likely won’t go away.

It’s alright. To limit its potential destructiveness on your writing time, try changing just one habit each day. Baby steps are key to gradually allowing yourself to step away from the need to be perfect and get closer to “good enough.”

Overcoming perfectionism isn’t a linear journey. You’ll have ups and downs, get frustrated with perceived failures and wonder why you should even bother.

Don’t let the struggle defeat you. Unlearning harmful mindsets and behaviors takes time. At first glance, it might be difficult to recognize your progress but hindsight is 20/20.

Keep fighting. Keep celebrating your successes, and most of all, keep writing.

Your best writing life is yours for the taking.

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Read more from Mary!

Mary Yamin-Garone, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Mary Yamin-Garone is an award-winning writer, editor and book/writing coach. In her 36 years, she has seen most every facet of the writing world as the featured guest writing expert on a weekly radio talk show; the recipient of numerous writing awards and accolades; and the coach and editor for several best-selling authors. One of her proudest moments came after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Mary received the Communication Concept 2002 APEX Award for Publication Excellence for Magazine and Newspaper Writing for her work after 9/11. She recently launched her signature coaching program, Bring Your Words to Life. Mary will help you improve your writing and turn your most important life experiences and knowledge into your best-selling book.



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