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.

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?

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