Cure for Perfectionism: 10 Tips to Perfect Imperfection for Writers by Beth Barany
I am a novelist, creative writer, blogger, nonfiction writer, teacher, and book and learning nerd. I fight my own perfectionism all the time. Mostly unconsciously. But I’ve found some ways to handle it consciously too.
I’ve written lots and published lots, but had to overcome both my sloppiness and my perfectionism to get published.
On the one hand, from a young age, I had no problem writing things down. But I often didn’t put much thought into what I was writing or spend any time revising it. I remember when I was in ninth grade the teacher handed back my essay, telling me that she could only give me a B, but would have given me an A if only I had double-checked my work and fixed the silly errors.
Other times, I was frozen, unable to write a word, until the deadline was the next day. College entrance essay, anyone. Oh boy!
Despite the fear, I have this urge to write. It exists beyond words. It exists even after stretches of not writing, especially after stretches of not writing.
You may have this urge too, but feel stymied by wordless fear or mental monkey you-can’t-do-this-well chatter.
Nevertheless, if you want to be writing, I believe that your adventurous and risk-taking spirit will lead you to the page again.
Here are some of playful tips to hopefully help you get writing, no matter where you find yourself on the sloppy-to-perfectionism spectrum. I’ve used this or versions of these at one time or another. Mix and match and experiment to find what works for you. I’ve listed them here in no particular order of importance.
1. Write with the other hand.
If you’re typing, type with your non-dominant hand. For handwriting, use the same. Seriously, give it a try. It will fire different neurons in your brain. I’m ambidextrous, by necessity, because of several hand surgeries. I’ve noticed that my mind works a little differently depending on which hand I’m using.
2. Play the opposite game.
When I’m stuck and not writing, I listen to what I’m saying to myself about it. I often hear myself say, “You can’t do this.” Or, “This is too hard.” So then I reverse it, and see what happens to my heart and mind. I’ll say, “I can do this.” Or, “It’s easy.” Then I feel the shift and see that I can do this and it’s much easier than I thought. Try it and see.
3. Timed writing.
I’ve written lots of posts on timed writing. It’s one of my favorite ways to get writing. Basically, I gently and respectfully take myself by the hand, set the timer for 20 minutes, have a writing focus, and write.
4. Listen to music.
I like to listen to NPR during the day and do a lot of writing or editing while I listen. But sometimes, I’m not feeling it, so need to listen to classical music, especially Baroque music– while I write fiction — or to Celtic music — while I’m editing.
5. Talk it out.
I’m a Gemini. I need to talk it out to a real person. Thankfully, I have an awesome husband, who is also a writer, and understands my need to talk it out. When I’m out and about, I’ve been known to ask strangers at the cafe where I’m writing, a short, direct question. It’s always helped, and people are thrilled to help writers.
6. Write a really bad first draft.
I borrow this from Anne Lamott and her book on writing and life, Bird by Bird. She says it a little differently. 🙂 When I teach in workshops and give participants the task of writing, I say to them, “I give you permission to write a very bad first draft. In fact, that is your assignment.” And they always succeed.
7. Move your body.
When I’m stuck, I get up and move. I do house chores, physically things like sweeping, vacuuming, moving dishes from the dishwasher back into the cabinets, etc. I’ve also danced, walked, or just upped and went to capoeira class.
8. Run water.
I love washing dishes as a form of meditation. Other people say they get lots of ideas while in the shower. I also like watering my plants, which is really a part of number 7, but I get my water kick with it too.
Quiet the mind and the body. There are many meditation traditions out there. I leave it to you to find one you like. You may need to test out a few to find the one that works for you.
10. Take a break.
We’re not machines. It’s okay to have the bed unmade and the dishes in the sink. Go outside. Step away from the computer. Dance. Giggle. Hug a loved one. Remember, you are human, and making mistakes is actually how we learn.
Bonus Tips: There is no such thing as perfectionism. My novels could be better if only I had one more day to work on them. But there is such a thing as good enough. And you’re good enough is probably better than 90% of the other writers out there. So trust yourself, get feedback on your writing from trusted colleagues, and tell yourself that there you are doing the best you can. That’s all we can ever do.
What do you do to get writing and overcome your perfectionism? How do you get writing again? Share your tips and comments in the comments section below. Thanks! Your tip may be exactly what another writer needs to hear.
Here’s a fun image for you to repost:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Beth Barany is an award-winning novelist and loves writing and helping other writers. She runs a coaching and consulting business for novelists and self-published authors. More about her products and services here: www.BethBarany.com.
** If you’re still not writing, and really want to be, consider signing up for a deep-work session to come back home to your love of writing and get writing again. More about my sessions here.