Are you your own worst critic? I sure am mine! Combine this with the idea that writing a book is nothing more than a prolonged exercise in perfectionism, and you could run into real trouble. I propose that overcoming perfectionism is the key to writing success.
Naturally, we must strive for quality when we write. But we also need to resist the urge to make it perfect. Why? Because perfection, which is highly subjective, falls somewhere between unlikely and impossible to achieve. And because perfectionism can lead to procrastination, writer’s block, stress, and the inability to finish one’s manuscript. Ugh!
If you’re a first-time or insecure writer, perfectionism can prevent you from even trying to tell your story or get your message across to others. My advice for you is to just start writing. Consider it a first draft that you never have to show anyone if you don’t want to. Even “real writers” start with a first draft! It won’t be perfect, but it’ll be a good start. Something to then edit into near-perfection.
Although I’m organized, I’m not a perfectionist. Not when it comes to most things. I believe that good enough really is good enough, with notable exceptions such as brain surgery and air traffic control. But I can certainly relate to perfectionistic writers! As I worked on my latest non-fiction, how-to book, I coached myself along the way, the same way I’ve coached my professional organizing clients.
In what ways was I concerned my book wouldn’t be perfect?
And what’s the worst that could happen if it’s not?
Here are some examples of the things I told myself during the writing and editing process:
What if I there’s a typo, or a grammatical error?
I’m going to have my book proofread by someone other than myself, of course. But I’ve found typos in books that surely also had been proofread before they went to press, so will it be perfect? Probably not. As for grammar, I have encountered many points that experts were still debating amongst themselves. So, whatever choices I’ve made (even if have been advised by an editor to make them) will still be subject to scrutiny by smarty pants readers. I’ll just do my best. My best will be good enough. And it’s not like my readers are out to find fault with me. They just want some good stories and good information they can use!
What if my writing isn’t clear, or my tips motivational?
Everyone has a different vocabulary, thought process, and frame of reference. So, there’s always going to be someone who doesn’t understand, or who prefers someone else’s explanation of the same concepts. And there might be some ideas that people will disagree with me about, or advice that doesn’t help them with their specific situation. That just comes with the territory. Meanwhile, though, readers have told me for years that they were motivated by my blog posts and newsletters, so why wouldn’t they appreciate my book as well?
What if all my concepts are not original and unique?
Ha! Well, some of them are, I think. But I learned a long time ago that just because someone else has written about a topic, doesn’t mean I can’t write about it too. How many blog posts have I read (and written) about various aspects of organizing and genealogy? It’s easy to hesitate, remembering that someone else is more experienced, or a better writer, or more well-known. But my readers want to know what I have to say about it. Right? This is what I tell myself, but the reason I’m saying it here is to encourage you to connect with your readers!
What if I missed something?
Like what? I don’t know. I won’t know I’ve missed it until it’s too late! If somebody asks me about a resource, or tool, or technique I didn’t include in the book I will say, “Yes, that’s a great idea too!” Or, “That was beyond the scope of this book. Maybe I’ll include it in the next one!” In fact, while I was writing, I kept telling myself: “Yes, you know more about this topic. The people who want to know more will have the wherewithal to find out more. But others will be overwhelmed if you just keep going on and on about it in this book. Stop. Keep it simple. It’s not an encyclopedia.”
What if, what if, what if…..?
As I remind myself regularly: It’s not really what if something happens; it’s what will I do when it happens? (Are you trusting your own wings? Or are you just hoping the branch won’t break?)
If you are a perfectionist, consider whether you are merely trying to get it right, or if you are afraid to get it wrong and worried that it won’t be perfect. To the extent that you are worried, remember that worrying is just a form of mental clutter.
Hazel Thornton, creator of The Clutter Flow Chart Collection, is based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She combines her genealogy research skills and professional organizing experience to help clients tell the stories of their photos, families, and things. Her latest book is called What’s a Photo Without the Story? How to Create Your Family Legacy. Visit her online at www.org4life.com.
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What a stellar post. We write because we have information and ideas to share with readers, but it can definitely be scary to be that vulnerable and exposed. Hazel, every writer should read your post (perhaps every few weeks?) to stay on top of these perfectionistic tendencies!
Perfectionism is very difficult to deal with. Both with non-fic and fic. I can power through and write a manuscript then get plagued with “Oh but the chapter isn’t just right yet. I need to tweak it.” or another huge one is “I still haven’t done enough research.”
I’m still learning how to deal with perfectionism. I’m currently working on a writing project with a collaborator. One thing that is helping thus far is that I’m forced to keep to a schedule because we have a weekly check-in. Not that I don’t struggle and thankfully we’re both patient with each other, but I have to produce something, anything, by the end of the week so I have something to show for myself. I hope in a little under 6 months we’ll have a first draft to show for it. Time will tell.
There is something so comforting about your approach. I don’t consider myself a perfectionist…or a perfectionist writer, yet some of what you mentioned feels SO familiar. Deciding when something is done or good enough takes practice. And I’m sure things can always be better. BUT, if I wait for that day, I will prevent myself from pressing the “publish” button.
My goal is to write a weekly blog post. In a given year, I write most weeks, but definitely skip a few. With that schedule, there are weeks when I sit to write and I’m not sure. As in, I’m not sure what I want to write or how to focus my thoughts. The doubt creeps in. Then I talk to myself and encourage letting go. Stop worrying about the outcome, Linda. Just start writing. Get the ideas out. See where they take you and edit. I don’t give myself a set amount of words to write. I go until it makes sense and hopefully provides something of value.
Thank you for these excellent points. When I’m in doubt, I’ll read your words to help me move forward.
Great read! I, for one, always did have a desire and apprehension to make my writing appear perfect. And I felt I didn’t deliver because I did not know what perfect was! This article was perfect to put my mind at ease and my writing free.