My Struggle with Perfectionism

Do you know your biggest obstacle against creativity? As a writer, perfectionism has kept me from making a good deal of progress. Much is said about Writer’s Block or the phobia of cliches being reasons why we don’t make progress. We rarely address a hidden problem. It’s the idea of striving to write a scene identical to what we see in our heads.

It’s easier to daydream than to write. It takes no effort to hold an image or play out a scene in your mind. Depending on how long it’s been marinating there, we struggle to get it on paper. Nothing on the page can do justice to what we imagine during long nights of insomnia, and this frustrating truth can keep us in a loop—write, rewrite, repeat.

Rewriting is necessary, but how do we know when it’s time to stop? It’s tempting to believe that if we rewrite a scene enough, it will become identical to what we see in our heads. With this myth deceiving us, we don’t notice when it is time to move on to other scenes. At what point do we wind up rewriting so much that we undo the story instead of making progress?

Since the beginning of April, I’ve been working to ensure my series will be finished. A day does not pass when I don’t write a page of backstory. In this ritual I expand on world building, delve into characters, and elaborate on their motives; I work out things readers might never find out, things I as an author must know.

I’ve been using basic legal pads. This makes a difference, because when I use pretty journals I’m afraid to ruin them. Every night I fill a page and store it in a binder. Disciplining myself this way, I have begun to sort through the jungle of my fictional world. A few years ago I confused myself by seeing one book instead of the world, and it was a disaster when the time came for revisions.

These pages of backstory won’t make a novel, but I’ll have a map to follow. Seeing my progress as I gather pages into the binder has made the end more achievable. With the big picture in mind, I don’t focus too much on one chapter; until the series is published, nothing’s set in stone.

There were scenes pining to be written which I ignored by rewriting chapter five over and over again. Perfectionism blinded me to reveals that deserved attention, if only so they would be well-done in the future. First drafts aren’t perfect and we’re not meant to spend all our time on them.

Perfectionism is our friend when it reminds us not to settle for sloppy writing. It becomes the enemy when it stops progress. If years have passed and you can’t move forward but universes continue to expand in your mind, it’s time to reel in that perfectionism.

I’m allowing myself to outline scenes for the second and third novels. They’re not the final breaths on which I’ll tell the story; they’re not perfect. My goal is to have material for editing; these scenes will also help me have an idea of where I’m going. In addition, when I get bold scenes out of my mind, it’s easier to focus on edits.

Every creative medium has its challenges. Have you worked out how to beat yours? Does perfectionism loom over you like it does me? If you have overcome that habit, I hope you can give some advice! Let’s help fill the world with stories by removing blocks from each others’ paths.

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