Posts Tagged ‘the curse of perfectionism’

There are some crazy statistics about how many people think they have a novel inside them. Then there are some even more crazy statistics about how many people start and never finish. Why? Well, in my journey as a teacher in schools, as a mentor in emails, and as a participant in writers’ communities, I have pursued the answer to that question. My take follows.

The number 1 reason people never finish a novel is the curse of perfectionism.

What is the curse of perfectionism? It is that little voice in your head that demoralizes you. It has two chief strategies, both of them equally devastating. The first says you will never succeed; the second says that your effort needs more refinement. The first is what keeps you from trying; the second what keeps you from finishing. Both can sound highly logical; neither can be trusted.

For writers, the first part of the curse usually comes around after an idea is newly formulated. “There’s no way you can make a novel out of that,” and “you don’t have the talent to craft a book” are common voices of the curse. Push through those and you will ram right into the second phase of the curse. This is where many authors spin their tires in the mud for years, wasting talent and losing the joy of writing. It is quick sand. Flee from it. “Your characters are rough,” and “you should rewrite that chapter” are repeated in the author’s mind until he fully believes it to be true. Writing, rewriting, and rewriting again and again takes away from ever finishing a novel. Before he knows it, the writer has a sour taste for his own novel and disbelieves his own talent. The curse of perfectionism can be fatal.

I fully believe the curse of perfectionism is what fells countless authors. I know it intimately. Perfectionism has been a bane not just in writing but in all aspects of my life. Thankfully, I am learning to live free of it.

Do you recognize yourself in the description of the curse of perfectionism? Perhaps in more than writing? Then, take heart. No true effort is ever wasted. You will be surprised how much you can learn from crafting a whole novel–even if you have to scrap it later and start over. There is as much to learn from failure as there is from success–if not more. And writing is a particularly forgiving craft. If you are shaping a clay pot and you make a mistake, you have to start over completely. If you are writing  novel and need to change a character, tools such as ‘backspace’ and ‘find-and-replace’ make it easier.

For me, dealing with the curse of perfectionism means embracing the idea that ‘writing’ and ‘editing’ are two separate phases of the novel-creation process. With each edit, my novels get increasingly more beautiful and with each completed novel my talent as a writer grows. Would I write my first book, Issym, the same way now? NO WAY! But does it have a merit and beauty of its own? Absolutely? Has it sold many copies? Yep.

Truth is, there is no perfect novel or perfect author. You will always get better at your craft. Life is that way too. I want to be perfect now–at everything. But things have value even if we fail or have room for growth. No effort is ever wasted. Don’t let the curse of perfectionism steal your joy or your talent; don’t let it prove fatal to you.

Christian, take heart. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14.

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