Home » Writing Advice » I am my own worst editor, because I am a perfectionist

I am my own worst editor, because I am a perfectionist

file0002062790027There.  I admit it.  I cannot edit my own work.  And the thought of having to do so keeps me awake at night in terror.  Written material from anyone else, I can edit with ease.  Editing my own work is the bane of the writing process.  I loath this step once the rough draft is complete.  These feeling are probably due to the fact that I am a perfectionist (to the extreme).  I comb each sentences over and over, restructuring and questioning grammar usage.  Every little aspect is second-, third-, fourth-guessed. No piece of writing is safe – not even blog posts.  The delays in a final product are all due to editing.  The constant worry on if everything is perfect.  Mind you, this is all before I allow another soul to read the piece.

My first published piece I labored over for years, trying to perfectly form each sentence.  When I finally had a product I was happy with, it went out to print.  Viewing the story in the final printed medium for the first time sent chills down my spine.  I was ready to take a red pen to the hard copy.

I do not know how to get past the perfectionism.  Nothing in this world is ever perfect.  Every text in history has at least one typo, one sentence that could have been structured better.

On my desk, placed in a constant line of sight,  I have a quote by Salvador Dali:

Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.”

There are no truer words, for I never will reach perfection.  In actuality no one will, as there is no such thing as perfection.  Everything in the world has at least one flaw.

And you know what – that is a good thing.  Flaws are good.  Flaws are what makes something unique.  Flaws cause growth.  Flaws allow something to be infinite.

If my next piece is perfect in all aspects then there would be no point in continuing to write.  I could never write another piece that was better than the perfect piece, because perfect is the highest level that could ever be attained.  The only thing that I could ever hope to achieve is something that is as equally as perfect.  There would be no new threshold broken because I would be meeting at the same level as the previous work.  At that point I would cease to grown.  I would stay stagnate at one level and just exist on one parallel stage.  There would be no more goals to reach.

And that is something that I cannot allow.  I must grow every single day until the day I die.  Every day I need to learn something new and take another step along the path of my life.  I never want to be all-knowing.  I never want to have all the answers.  I never want to be perfect.

Perfectionism is the end of the line.  Nothing can ever be better than perfect.

What I want is my writing to be good and clean with as little errors as possible.   I shall maintain my high standard of quality, because I don’t want to publish garbage.  However, I don’t want to have a complete breakdown when I see a couple of little typos were not caught.  Errors and flaws will happen, and that I need to acknowledge that so that I can learn for the next time.   From each flaw, I will grow and the next publication will be even better.

That is what I want out of my writing: experience, growth, progress.

I can acknowledge that I cannot edit my own work and that first draft will be edited to the extent that I can personally edit it.  Yet, I will no longer stress and worry endlessly over if the draft is absolutely perfect.  As soon as the first draft is done and cleaned up, the piece will be passed on to a professional editor.  They are the ones who will fix anything that I may have missed.

As the author, we have a harder time in making our writing 100% optimal because the story lives in our head.  It plays like a movie over and over again, that when we read it in the written context, we subconsciously skip over things.

There is no surefire way solution to overcome this attitude of perfectionism and worry.  For writers, much like myself, who struggle to edit your own work, I can only give four pieces of advice that may help the first draft edits less stressful:

1. Read your story backwards – You already know your work from beginning to end.  Reading it in reverse will help with line editing (though not so much with content editing).

2. Read your writing in a different medium – If you write in Word or Scrivener, try saving you work as a mobi file and upload it to an electronic device, like a Kindle.  Just reading your writing in a different context will make any errors stand out better than on the medium you used to write.

3. Give it up – Just stop editing and give it to a professional editor.  Again, writers are intimate with their work.  Blinders are up and it sometimes makes it impossible for the writer to see any errors.  Allow a second set of eyes to give the story a once over.  However, do make sure they are a professional.  A professional editor’s names are at stake with the quality of your work, so they will make sure things so that you don’t have to worry.  Just keep in mind that they are human and may make mistakes as well, which leads to…

4. Let it go – As I have said endlessly before, nothing is perfect.  Learn from the errors and flaws.  Mistakes are just learning experiences.  Just accept that they will happen and move on.  Make your next publication even better.



Do you struggle with editing your own work?  If so, how do you cope with that?

Also, if you are on the path of looking for an editor, I suggest reading Michelle’s latest post Finding a Freelance Editor: Types of Fiction Edits 

11 thoughts on “I am my own worst editor, because I am a perfectionist

  1. I have the most trouble proofreading because I know what I have written, I find myself not really “reading” it. I think I am, but I’m really just “reading” what I thought I wrote, if that makes any sense. Any change that I make while reading forces me to “read” the whole thing over again because I may have deleted a word accidently, or left some of the old sentence when changing one. By the time I am ready to publish, I don’t even like the piece anymore, I am just so tired of reading it. It never fails that as soon as I do, I find something to go back and change. The writing takes no time at all – the proofreading/editing is what takes forever.

  2. We’re so hard on ourselves, aren’t we, Amanda? I think it’s great you realize this is a PROBLEM for you and you’re trying to change it. Baby steps…

  3. The almost best way to beat perfectionism is get a good therapist that does cognitive therapy. Maybe you can’t stop the urge but it is controllable.
    What wasn’t clear in this piece was what kind of editing plagues you. I’m guessing line editing. More writers need to labor over line editing. Content editing is an altogether different issues. Line structure can be near perfect, content , not so much.
    Content wise, the above is about your struggle and less about how to fix the need to fix it. If that was your intent, well done, if not you need a content editor on this topic.
    How I missed the perfectionism trap is doing journalism. Dead lines you can’t afford to miss, and word limits, do wonders for licking perfection–Really hard to go off track as well. Better than a therapist: write for newspapers on the side.

    • Seeking a therapist has crossed my mind once or twice. Over the past few years, I been meeting more and more authors who struggle with both content and / or line editing their own work because of the perfectionism that hangs overhead. Many of them remain silent, embarrassed by that fact. This post was to show that they are not alone in fighting that battle.

      I don’t have many solutions on how to fix this struggle, because I am still experimenting with how to fix the self-editing process with myself. However, what I did offer at the end of the post are some solutions that have been working out for me so far.

      I really like your suggestion on practicing a journalistic writing style. My background is in creative and technical writing. While technical writing is heavy with deadlines and concise content, the word count maximum is much more forgiving than journalism. It is really beautiful what journalists can do in a finite amount of space and time.

      Practice in that area of writing would definitely lend well to helping a writer overcome the fear of perfectionism and better their writing / editing process.

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