Chasing Perfection Is the Stupidest Writing Decision

Posted September 19, 2013 by Amanda Shofner in Writing / 8 Comments


You’re not perfect

But who cares? Life isn’t perfect. You aren’t perfect. Your writing isn’t perfect. And attempting to achieve perfection is holding you back.

Perhaps it’s even preventing you from starting your masterpiece.

Perfectionism says, “If this isn’t perfect, no one will like it.” It whispers, “This is terrible. What are you even doing?” It suggests, “You should probably spend your time surfing the Internet instead.”

Perfectionism lies. It sucks your creativity and spits you out two hours later on YouTube with nothing to show for your time.

Perfectionism is insecurity and anxiety and unrealistic expectations and fear.

Your first draft isn’t forever. It can change. It will change. Because if what you wrote doesn’t change from the first draft to the final draft, you’re doing it wrong.

Yeah. I’ll say it. You’re doing it wrong. W-R-O-N-G.

The fear of mistakes is a side effect of perfectionism

We’re all so busy chasing perfect, wanting to produce something that knocks everyone flat on their face with all the awesome, that we forget to be realistic. We forget the truth: we’re not infallible; we don’t know everything; by trying to please everyone, we please no one; we only fail by not trying.

But that doesn’t stop us from attempting to achieve it. And yet we procrastinate. We make excuses. We freeze up. We choose to wait until everything is “right.” Or we choose not to do it all, even though it’s what we’ve always wanted.

Because we can’t be sure it’s perfect. Because no one will like it. Because we need approval from others before we’re able to believe it might be okay. *points to self*

Because right now, I’m attempting to stop myself from sharing this post before I publish it. Because I want someone to say, “Yeah, this is awesome!” Because I can’t say it myself.

But by seeking the approval of others, I fail to learn how to make decisions for myself. By taking the words of others, I fail to grow as a writer and blogger. By relying on others, I stunt my entire writing and revision process.

I cannot learn what good writing is when I have others tell me what it is. You don’t learn by lecture. You learn by doing—and failing. I must learn by doing—and failing—on my own.

Tell yourself to knock it off and move forward

It’s easy to sell ourselves excuses. It’s easier to believe our excuses than face that we are our own worst enemy. That we are stopping ourselves. That it’s our own damn fault we haven’t gotten started, followed through, and rocketed ourselves into success.

You need courage and vulnerability to persist.

Chasing perfection makes us blind to our own brilliance. We write something and turn our nose up because it’s not what we envisioned. It isn’t up to our standards. Except that sometimes, we do write something that’s worth reading, and we’re clueless about how awesome it actually is.

We think it’s perfection or bust.

But life is messy.

It’s imperfect.

And life is glorious in its imperfections.

If you don’t start, you will never accomplish anything. If you spend years contemplating how to perfect your characterization or finding the perfect writing process before starting, you’re going to do nothing. By chasing perfection, you won’t succeed.

Try something. Evaluate its effectiveness. Listen to yourself. Change accordingly. Fail. Do it all over again until you find what works for you. 

Because by letting go of the need to be perfect, you can learn, grow, and succeed.

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8 responses to “Chasing Perfection Is the Stupidest Writing Decision

  1. Totally needed this today. Thank you.

    I like to have some sort of reminder for this every day. Because otherwise I get sucked right back in to the perfectionism void.

  2. Man, I needed to read this today. Thank you, Amanda. As a copywriter, I tend to focus so much on the first draft. I stress over the quality of the first thing the client sees, sometimes at the expense of the last. In the end, the client cares more about the quality of the final piece than the process. This is a great reminder that really interesting things can happen when perfection is not the aim.

    • Yes! I’ve found I can get so wrapped up in getting the beginning of the first draft right that I can’t write anything else until it’s just so. It’s a huge time waster on my part. (And does that stop me? Not really. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well.) I need to get better at word vomiting. Always easier to edit written words than words in your head.

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