3 Rules to Remember to Quiet Your Writer’s Perfectionism

Unedited / Monday, March 11th, 2019

“We are all our own contradictions. I am a dreamer, a perfectionist in words only.”

Maggie Ann Ryan

I love the weekend because there is so much time for writing, and coffee, and moments alone; even between the walks with our little dog Bodie and the laundry. Life doesn’t seem to get in the way, and I enjoy soaking in the time I have to be with my words. It’s not that my calendar isn’t busy, there just seems to me more room on the weekend, and I have time to move at my own pace.

This weekend was spent getting my next book ready enough to send to my publisher for a first look. The key word in that sentence is enough. As soon as she asked me to send it her way, my writer’s perfectionism clutched down on my throat and suddenly I could barely breathe and the draft I was proud of five minutes ago was the stupid thing I’d ever written. I wasn’t worried that it wasn’t perfect, I was worried that it wasn’t perfect and someone was about to read it.

As a (recovering) perfectionist, I have spent 97% of my writing life scribbling away in notebooks and refusing to let anyone read my words because they weren’t good enough. The other 3% goes to words I allowed people to read — but only after days/months of re-writing and editing and re-writing and editing until the deadline was up and it didn’t matter if I hated it completely, I had run out of time.

I can see how detrimental that attitude is on my work and on my self. It’s led to over-worked drafts with the heart completely edited out. It’s led to weeks (months) of procrastination because it’s too overwhelming to even begin to make my WIP perfect. And it’s led to years of hiding from everyone; when all this time I have so many stories to tell!

Of course, there are two sides to any coin. I can also see the blessing in my perfectionism. It has led me to create some truly artistic stories that I am proud to have authored. It has forced me to reach weeeeelllllll over 10,000 hours of mastering my craft simply by my compulsive need to re-write a single sentence over and over and over again until it’s just “right”.

But the thing is, it’s never just “right”. There will always be sentences that aren’t perfect. I realized a long time ago that if I were to ever become a published author, I needed to let go of my perfectionism, but I didn’t want to. My perfectionism is a safety net. It’s what keeps me from publishing sub-par words, and the idea of publishing a book ridden with typos and plot holes terrifies me because what will people think? So instead of letting it go, I found the balance, allowing my perfectionism to run it’s course while not letting it keep me from being read.

If you struggle with your own forms of writer’s perfectionism, these rules will help you find your own balance so you can write a book you can be proud of and stop keeping your words hidden away from the world!

1. Trust Your Words

Trusting my words was hard for me to learn. It took real, honest feedback from unbiased sources to confirm that the words I chose portrayed the meaning I wanted them to. And then it took mean (mostly petty) feedback on the internet for me to confirm in my own heart that I chose the right words. In other words, remember who you are and trust your words.

2. Set Perfectionism Boundaries

Just like with annoying people in your life, you have to set boundaries or you will lose yourself entirely. Perfectionism Boundaries are boundaries you place on yourself for yourself. They remind you to be nice to yourself. Before you can set boundaries for yourself, you need to understand how perfectionism comes up in your writing life with a negative impact, and then deciding on boundaries that will keep it in check.

For example, when writing a first draft I set the boundary that I will not delete anything I’ve written until I’m finished with the entire draft. Not only does this help me to keep writing, but I’ve also saved myself from deleting words that ended up being really beautiful.

3. Allow Room for Enough

Allowing room for enough is an intention that you make before you begin. It’s not allowing your perfectionism to clench its evil fist around your throat and scream at you that it’s not good enough. It’s allowing your perfectionism enough time to edit and re-write until it’s good enough, with the intention that good enough is good enough. When I breathe that permission in, I like to move my arms around me so I can feel all the space I’m allowing myself to create.

Think about it logically. If you’re on the first draft, good enough is getting the basic story down on paper amidst really messy and awkward sentences. If you’re at the first look stage, good enough is not the final draft, because now it’s time for feedback and professional edits.

The whole point is that writing a book is a process, and when you allow yourself room to move through the process and forgive yourself for not being perfect (instead of being held hostage by your perfectionism), not only will you enjoy the process of writing a book a lot more (ie not stress so much!), but your final product will end up much better in the end because you allowed room for creativity, not perfectionism!!

How does your writer’s perfectionism keep you from writing? What boundaries do you need to set for yourself? Comment below!

I’d also like to invite you to register for Bodie & Ryan’s next online writer’s workshop, “What Keeps Us From Writing”, to learn more about how to deal with the emotions that come up that keep all of us writer’s from actually writing, so you can write more often and with less of the writer’s struggle. You can receive this workshop for free if you register before the release date: March 31!

Love to you all!

Maggie Ann Ryan
Owner: Bodie & Ryan Co.

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