Changing Perspective: Perfectionism in Writing

Written by: Joshua Camputaro

Source: Pixels

There is no such thing as a perfect sphere. 

Perfectionism in writing can be a self-defeating obstacle. Even as I am writing this blog post, I feel an overwhelming pressure towards creating a perfect, completed piece by the time I enter the last period. Since such wholeness is impossible, my desire actually makes writing it a difficult, demoralizing process. 

The hard truth is that writing is never perfect, and most pieces we call “perfect” are neither simply written in one go nor as perfect as we may raise them to be. “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” and though the drive for perfection is not a fault with us as writers, it is an issue of perspective which locks us out of engaging with and completing our creative works.

There are a slew of posts and discussions out there on this topic, and to say there is an answer that works for everyone would be disingenuous. Nonetheless, I hope this post can help individuals who would like to address their battle with perfectionism by shifting their perspective in order to recognize the damage perfectionism creates in many writers. 

Drafting vs. Publishing

Source: Pixels

There are still many flights to go.

When perfectionism rears its head, we tend to mistake the piece we are working on with the published page. This perspective does help us look out for faults and errors in our piece, but it can make us forget our writing is still not yet seen by the outside world. This displacement, where we can think, plan, and create things which are not in the present reality, is a natural beauty in the human mind, and without it we would have not been able to create all the stories we have come to cherish.

It is unnatural to get out of displacement, and it should not be forced away. Instead, one way to harness this superpower is by trying to envision a personal draft completed in the future which you can then work on further, a piece of writing which you understand to not be viewed by others, like a personal journal entry. 

The 70% Rule

Source: Pixels

Not an impossible wall to climb, but a journey to walk.

All of us have heard the mantra of giving something 100, or even 110%. I am giving you permission to throw this mantra away. The perfect piece of work is unattainable, and though you should always give your best effort, giving anything beyond 100% is, quite literally, impossible.

Instead, when you work on your next piece, try to give your work 70%. This not only feels more attainable, but also allows you to be more flexible in your thinking. With less pressure, you may find that more of your ideas come through. Rather than immediately tossing some of them away in your current vision of the piece, you could allow yourself to consider different ways of presenting your material, allowing for new directions which may not have been previously possible.

This is not to say your raw “70%” work will be what is inevitably published. Instead, once you’ve actually gotten the raw draft down, you can always revisit your text and either revise and improve or toss and move on. Knowing when to stop may be difficult, but by aiming for 70%, you can find content in the piece, with any imperfections it may have, and still know it to be a good piece of work.

Rejection as Love and Learning

Source: Pixels

Never stop learning. 

When you decide to send any of your work out, be it for publication, school, or otherwise, there is bound to be a variety of responses to it, from editors and readers alike. 

It is natural to feel some pain seeing your creation suffer from issues, but try to regard criticisms of the piece as just that: commentary on the piece rather than a reflection of you as the writer. It also helps to try to recognize and appreciate the positive feedback you receive, or places where there is a lack of criticism and where you are doing well already. If you believe those criticisms to be valid, think of them as ways you, as caretaker, can help heal and mend the piece and how those skills can then help you take care of other pieces in the future. 

I once presented a poem I had struggled to write in one of my workshop classes. My professor gave direct, serious criticism of how the piece lacked a solid voice. By focusing on how the voice of the poem was in pain, I was able to take his advice readily. In revision, I experimented with ways to help this voice be heard, eventually coming out with a piece that was not perfect, but which had found the voice it was looking for. 

The way may not always be clear, and some pieces may not be salvageable, but by using criticism as a diagnostic tool, you not only lessen the sting of criticism on yourself, but you also ensure that the focus lies on the health and wellbeing of the story you are trying to tell.

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