Home » Humor » Perfectionist Writer Problems: You May Be a Perfectionist If . . .

Perfectionist Writer Problems: You May Be a Perfectionist If . . .

Perfectionist Writer Problems: You May Be a Perfectionist If . . .I was chatting with Chris last week about my novel issues. Yes, with my thesis looming over my head I’m having, of all things, novel issues. I am not a fire and forget kind of writer. I’m an agonize over every word even when I know I’ll probably burn the draft in a fiery pit of doom kind of writer. Perfectionists are an odd sort, and the longer I hang around the writer corner of the internet, the clearer it is to me that the writing world is full of them. *Waves at all fellow perfectionists*

The sarcastic muse has struck me this week, so below I’ve amassed a list of some perfectionist problems. At least the ones that are familiar to me.

Disclaimer: I can’t speak for all perfectionists. Also, some points may dually apply to self-proclaimed non-perfectionists, too. (Imperfectionists?)

You may be a perfectionist if . . .

1.) You get stuck on one word. Usually the first word you choose will be the word you ultimately go with (as that’s the one intuition will have chosen), but before you can relax and move on, you may do the following: Take the word out. Put it back five minutes later. Change it to a different word. Decide it sounds wrong and put the old one back. Wash, rinse, repeat.

2.) You follow in the footsteps of Oscar Wilde: put the comma in your draft in the morning, then take it out in the evening. You will do this fifteen times and will probably still go with your original choice.

3.) You are so afraid of writing the wrong words that you refuse to write any at all. In the meantime, you manage to clean the entire house until it sparkles, get a degree in physics, and learn twenty-two languages.

4.) You’ve read your current draft so many times that you can recite it from memory (even if it’s only the first chapter).

5.) In fact, you are ultimately much better at reading your draft than you are at writing it.

6.) You could give up any key on the keyboard except the “backspace” button.

7.) And your daily word counts tend to go into the negative. As in . . . you like to think of it as writing words off the page. That’s still writing, right?

8.) You’ll only let someone read your work after having stressed that it is “only a first draft” and that you fully intend to use it as firewood.

9.) And you’re sure to apologize profusely for having forced them to read something that’s not even fit for maggot consumption (even though they have been begging to read your work for close to six months now).

10.) You reread even your blog posts over twenty-four times before posting. And then at least twenty-four more times after posting. That’s why people only hear from you once a month. Case in point: I’m up to revision 8 9 10 and this blog post has only been live for five ten minutes.

11.) You manage to be on top of all the problems in your draft but can never meet a deadline for it.

12.) You look everywhere for the red ink on your paper. Red ink is your friend. Red ink makes you feel alive as it drips across the blank white of the page. Red ink . . . oh, I’m sorry. Amanda must have let the monsters out of the lab again. I digress . . .

13.) However, when someone says that your work doesn’t have to be perfect or that there is no such thing as perfection, you feel a strong inclination to start marking them with red ink.

With a pen, of course . . . which red ink were you thinking about?

14.) You’re not moving forward until you fix the thing in the draft that’s bothering you. “Hey, writer,” a well-meaning friend says. “The world is ending. We should head for the escape pods now.” “Of course, the world is ending,” you say. “This dash doesn’t fit between these two words, but I’m not sure where else to put it.”

15.) You found yourself nodding at the points on this list. Or grinning. When the world is ending, you think, it’ll be us perfectionists who write order into the chaos . . . perfectly.


Alright, fellow perfectionists. Your turn. Tell me: What are your perfectionist problems?

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29 thoughts on “Perfectionist Writer Problems: You May Be a Perfectionist If . . .

    • Thanks so much for the reblog, Daphne! I have to laugh at my own problems to keep from crying, too. Perfectionists unite! 🙂

  1. I am guilty of #3 as well, only my house is still dirty and I only speak English. Sigh. I am getting loads of television watched though. So. There’s that.

    • Television watching is a suitable excuse. 😉 So long as you aren’t writing words, you’re not writing the wrong ones, after all.

    • Oh, I know what you mean. Then all I can think is “Restart!” Though I have gotten *slightly* better about that. The other Muses hold me accountable for finishing things, these days. Thanks for the reblog and for sharing your perfectionist problems! 🙂

  2. I’m definitely a recovering Perfectionist. I KNOW it’s time for me to let my writing go (especially my novels), when I’m pulling an Oscar Wilde and just moving commas. 😉

    • A recovering Perfectionist. Hehe. Oh man, soon we’ll have to have PA meetings. You make an excellent point though. If all we’re doing is moving commas, it’s time to let go. There’s definitely such a thing as over-editing.

  3. For many years, number 3 was my main problem. Then I found NaNoWriMo and learned how to make a mess with the words. Now my biggest problem is getting worried that I’m not doing it right. I’ve just started my first major revision and I keep telling myself doing anything badly is better than doing nothing perfectly.

    • Sorry. I’m a bit behind with comments at the moment! You are absolutely right. And I have to constantly tell myself that: bad words on the page are better than no words at all. Still, the doubt still lingers. Keep going, though!

  4. All of the above! *Waves back* This post really resonates with me.

    I am not a writer, but I do enjoy writing and I do a lot of business writing for my job. I am a photographer in my own time and by day a marketing manager. My perfectionism has followed me through art school, business school and every aspect of my professional career. Oddly, the only area it doesn’t apply is to the cleanliness of my apartment – unless I am trying to procrastinate a project that I believe falls under the “this should be firewood” category. Then the apartment is spotless 🙂

    I want to run screaming out of the room when someone asks to review my first draft of anything, and mind you, the draft I tell people is my first is usually somewhere between my 12th – 23rd actual attempt. I am so befuddled by people who can just do a thing once and consider the task to be complete, and by the fact that non-perfectionists cannot understand those of us afflicted with the condition. One of my colleagues once said to me after I forced her to review the 7th draft after one she had said was good enough, “I don’t like you when you’re in Photoshop.”

    Recently I’ve really been trying to achieve more of a balance between “I think it’s perfect but I’ve missed all of my deadlines and everyone is mad at me now” and “I completed this task on time but think it’s complete garbage and I want to bury my face in shame knowing that other people have seen this work.”

    It’s a work in progress, right? We’re perfectionists because we care deeply about the quality of our work. We just have to work on being kinder to ourselves. It’s good that you can laugh at yourself and try to find the positive side of your perfectionism. I wish you all the best in your recovery 🙂

    • I apologize for taking a week to respond to your lovely comment — it’s been a busy week here. Thank you so much for sharing your story! I love how it applies to the art/photography world too. I can definitely see the relation. After all, writers — or any artists — are similar in that we think and see, oftentimes, in abstraction. It can be endlessly frustrating for us when we attempt to get our vision to match the physical work in our hands. I think a lot of perfectionism stems from that. At least for me. There’s always one word more that would be better suited than the word I’ve chosen, or one sentence that could be better worded to convey the emotion of the scene. That kind of thing.

      But absolutely, we’re perfectionists because we care very much about our work. Finding a balance is key, and I’m getting there, slowly.

      If you enjoy writing, and you put words on the page, you are a writer!

  5. Reblogged this on Sound of Swarming and commented:
    As a lifelong perfectionist in recovery (optimistically), this post penned by Michelle Mueller via The Sarcastic Muse really resonated with me. Every item in her list made me laugh. Some hit home hard enough to induce a wince, but most made me remember that those of us who both benefit and suffer from our perfectionist ways have our own reasons for doing these things, and all of us care deeply about the quality of the work we introduce into the world. If you’re in the community of recovering perfectionists, I think you’ll enjoy this post as much as I did.

  6. Stellar 😉 I feel much better now, by the way, thank you 🙂 I keep telling myself that my tendencies towards perfection are simply a sign that I want to capture those emotions that are so deeply seated inside me. I want them to spill out on to the page in a way that everyone else can feel the same things that I feel when I write/read it.

    In reading these, ahem, tendencies, I certainly relate to most of them. I probably will never abolish my need for perfection. It is healthy, to me at least, in moderate doses. The trick is making sure that it doesn’t become too all consuming. Excuse me now – I have a comma to deal with 😉

    • At the risk of sounding like a hypocrite (as I should really take my own advice), I’d say always trust your intuition. Without thinking about it, you are subconsciously capable of selecting the words/syntax that best show what you’re feeling. Trust, also, that people will be able to feel that, too.

      Exactly. Perfectionism can be an asset, as I’ve said elsewhere in a comment. It just needs to be balanced out, a bit. 🙂

  7. Guilty as charged. It’s like you wrote this post about me.
    A wrong word stops me dead in mid sentence. Until I get it right, the story won’t move. As a matter of fact, I’m stuck right now, yet the story should have been finished last week! I didn’t know that’s what perfectionists do. I didn’t know it’s a problem.

    • Oh, I definitely know the feeling. Perfectionism is only a problem if it prevents you from moving forward. But I think it can be an asset, too, as perfectionists are more likely to hand in quality work. Striking a balance can be difficult though.

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