Kill the Perfectionist: An Open Letter to my Writer Friends

Contemplating Perfectionism

It started with an email. My friend, a writer, wrote to ask me if I wanted to join her in going to a writer’s conference. My answer surprised even me. That was the foundation for this blog post. If you’re a writer who is struggling to finish that book you know you were meant to write, the one that has been living in your head for far too long, this letter is for you.

Dear Writer Friend,

So, you want to go to a conference…again? Have you finished your novel? If not, I’m going to have to ground you. Why? Because you’re a good writer. No, you’re a great writer. And you’ve learned enough. You’ve done the research. You’ve read books on everything from grammar to the craft of writing a compelling book. You’ve gone to classes, lectures, and workshops. You’re already a pro. Many people have confirmed that you can write and I’m one of them. Now you just gotta get your butt in that chair and finish! I’m serious.

Are you a perfectionist? I’ve read that a perfectionist is not what most people think it is. Most people think a perfectionist is the person who cleans the house top to bottom every Saturday and picks up every dirty sock and dish, in-between.  Her pantry is organized. Everything has a place. She finishes everything she starts and even her social life is tidy. Sounds like a perfectionist, right?Not so fast. Actually, the opposite is true. A true perfectionist almost never finishes things. What? How can that be? Well, because she knows they’ll never be “just right” ie: perfect. So, she might start a lot of things, but she doesn’t finish them. In an article entitled, 10 Telltale Traits of a Perfectionist, the author writes about the “all or nothing mentality. Being almost perfect isn’t good enough. She believes, whether consciously or unconsciously, that she’ll never achieve what she believes is possible.

Writer as Perfectionist

Writers are particularly prone to perfectionist thinking. In fact, most creative types are perfectionists of one degree or another. Let’s say the writer has a great idea for a novel, or memoir. Enthused, she begins writing. The words flow. Pages fly by. She’s a third of the way through when something happens. She begins to doubt the project. She questions the story, the project. Slowly, it seems to her that it’s not such a good idea after all. Or worse, she begins to doubt herself.

“Who do I think I am? I’ve been a (fill in the blank with a job) for years now. I’m good at it. What makes me think I can be a writer now?”
Slowly she lets go of the project. A few days pass, and she hasn’t written. A few more pass and she barely notices. Before she knows it, she’s spent months, even years away from the project that still niggles at her brain. Denying your dream is tragic.

This is War!

So, here’s my advice, my Friend: Fight against it. Fight against “Resistance” with a capital “R” (From Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art). You don’t need one more course, one more conference, or seminar. You don’t need to read another article or book. You don’t need to hash it out with other writers, friends, or anyone else. No, now is the time to wage war! And to do that, you need to see Resistance as the evil enemy that it is. Every word you write, every time you hit the “enter” button and start a new paragraph, you’re kicking it’s ass. It’s the only way to defeat it – with words – with your butt in the chair, and your mind completely engaged in the novel at hand.
I’m offering this advice for free, and you know what they say about getting what you pay for. So, take it or leave it. But I hope you’ll take it, because I believe in you and your writing. I can’t wait to see you succeed. You’ve got this!
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Your Tough Love Friend, Karen
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P.S. Want to know if you’re a perfectionist? Take the Are You a Perfectionist Quiz. After answering the questions, and adding up your score, you can find out where you are on the perfectionism spectrum.

 

Karen Fisher-Alaniz

Starting Over at Mid-life

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Karen Fisher-Alaniz is a freelance writer and published author. She holds a master's degree in education and taught special education for 14-years. She is a frequent speaker on veteran's issues, and teaches workshops on memoir writing. She teaches a life story writing course at her local community college. At midlife, she found herself dealing with health issues, divorce, and the loss of a job she loved. She shares her journey of starting over at midlife on 8 Women Dream every Sunday morning. Her dream is to build a writing life, and find her writing voice, while restoring her 100-year old home. She dreams of writing best-selling books in her own voice. Karen lives in the pacific northwest with her family.
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