Tips for Writers with Perfectionistic Tendencies

For many writers the current pandemic is a golden opportunity to get writing done. Many of us are self-isolating with laptops and desktops at the ready. How much we can achieve in this window of time, however long it lasts, will be different for all of us. External deadlines often provide the greatest motivation, but what of internal, self-imposed deadlines? For those of us with perfectionistic tendencies our self-talk and modes of operation can have us striving for excellence in ways that can be self-defeating. 

So how can we make the most of our writing time and avoid falling into the perfectionistic traps that can hold us back rather than push us forward? What works for one writer may not work for another, but whatever genre or writing style you are focussed on these tips can help break the cycle of negative perfectionism:

Self-Doubt is inevitable

  • Know that even the most successful writers doubt themselves at times. Imposter syndrome, writers block, that feeling of unworthiness or ‘what I’m writing is all crap’, is a phase that will pass if you don’t pay it too much attention and feed it with negative self-talk. Remember what got you excited about your topic in the first place and focus on that

Don’t mix writing with editing

  • When you sit down to work on your manuscript decide whether you are going to review/edit writing you have already done or if you are just going to write. Never attempt both in the same sitting. Perfectionists can find this difficult but resist at all costs because it will tie you in knots otherwise. The fact is that writing and reviewing/editing use two different part of the brain. Writing is the act of creation; reviewing and editing is an act of analysis. Like water and oil, they don’t mix

Be prepared to change tack

  • Perfectionists tend to want to map out the whole manuscript before they get too much into writing. Unexpected surprises or problems can be confronting. Mind mapping is great, as are chapter outlines but don’t let these restrict your writing if it wants to change tack or change the ending or move in a completely different direction. However you work through this, it is a natural state of creativity

You first manuscript may never be published – and that’s okay

  • More often than not it takes a book to write a book. No matter how many writing courses you take, the fact is that all skills are ultimately mastered by doing. You might have the greatest idea in the world but, as a rule, it stills takes around 10,000 hours to become expert at something. For a writer this means a lot of reading and a lot of writing. Hence the first book you write may well be your ‘practice book’, the book in which you teach yourself to write. My first book was a memoir that still sits in my drawer twenty years later. At the time a major publisher almost picked it up. When I look at the manuscript now, I’m so glad they didn’t