How To Stop Being a Perfectionist (Hint: I don’t know. Send help.)

I’m a bit of a perfectionist. Well, maybe more than a bit. This was a hard thing to come to terms with, because I feel that I do absolutely nothing perfectly. You want proof? I’ve got a good fifty poems, a dozen short stories, and two full-length novels I’ve written that I can’t bear to do anything with, because they aren’t perfect yet. And it’s absolutely the worst, because without allowing myself to feel that any of these things are complete (i.e. perfect), I get 0 sense of satisfaction of a job well done. Consequently, it seems that I don’t feel very proud of myself.

I only realized how bad it was the other day. A professor and I were discussing anything I’ve written academically that I might be able to edit for publishing. “I haven’t done anything worthwhile yet,” I told him, trying really hard to think of something, anything. “Most of the things I’ve written have been trivial.”

“Nothing from your MA thesis?” he asked.

It was a long document, and pretty original research. Four chapters representing ten months of my life’s work. “No,” I said, “I think it was actually pretty disjointed. I don’t think it’s anything worth showing.”

He looked surprised, and suddenly I thought my academic cred was going to be under fire. I quickly backtracked. “I mean, I passed an oral defence for it, and my department thought it was good enough for me to graduate, you know? But I don’t think it’s all that good.”

And when those words came out of my mouth I realized, damn. I have a problem.

I think this really stems from my habit of being a very solitary worker bee. I don’t have a soundboard around for my writing too often, or the ones I do have are far away, and it’s hard to get a sense of their genuine impression through the internet. I work in a bubble and I think that either makes you a very poor writer, or a very unconfident one. Or both, heaven forbid.

I set a goal for this month to complete my short story, Selene and Endymion. Today I wrote the ending and it is actually complete! That was a good feeling, and the first step in overcoming my perfectionism. Here is my 4 step plan:

Step 1: Actually write the ending to the story. Check.

Step 2: Edit the story. Painful and unpleasant.

Step 3: Decide how you’re going to publish/share it. Ugh.

Step 4: Actually follow through with what you picked. ARGH!!!

For a long time I was convinced that my hatred of completing these four steps was due to laziness, or distraction, or maybe just being not cut out for writing. But damnit all, if this isn’t the excuse list of a perfectionist?

So I am making a commitment to myself to finish all four steps. When it’s done, I suspect I may actually feel a real sense of accomplishment. And maybe that feeling will be the high I need to convince me to do it again, and again… and soon all the completed-but-ignored projects in my inventory will see the light of day.

Endnote: If any of you have tips on being less of a perfectionist, please send them my way, ASAP!


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