Perfectionism: How Can Something So “Perfect” Be So Wrong?

ACFW Advice, Authors and writing, Encouragement, Fear/Doubt, Friends of ACFW, writing 2 Comments

by Kathy Harris

I’m a perfectionist. And that’s not a good thing.

Taken to the extreme, perfectionism can lead to serious psychological issues and is, in fact, on the rise, especially among young people. (See, Harvard Business Review, January 26, 2018.) But, even those of us who have a casual acquaintance with perfectionism will find that our work can suffer because of it.

So, you ask, how can something so “perfect” be so wrong?

By definition, perfectionism is the desire for precision, exactness, and rightness in our work. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Perhaps theoretically. But while we all want to do our best, the goal of writing a “perfect” manuscript can be stifling. And exhausting. It can snuff out creativity. And, even worse, it can lead to paralysis, which means an unfinished project, or no manuscript at all.

Please don’t misunderstand. The process of editing and honing is a good thing. But editing and perfectionism aren’t the same thing. Perfectionism keeps you from editing—or leads to over-editing—out of fear that you won’t reach the elusive goal of a perfect work.

So, as one wannabe reformed perfectionist to another—and I suspect you think you are one if you’re still reading this—what do we need to do to fix the problem? First, we should know the signs of perfectionism. In an article in Psychology Today (November 18, 2016), Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo lists nine of them. Two are especially pertinent to writers, i.e. 1) Not being able to finish our work, and 2) Procrastination.

Do you have an unfinished manuscript because you’ve been putting off writing? Let’s be honest, a sudden preoccupation with house cleaning can mean only one of two things. You have company coming over. Or you’re making excuses for not writing. On the other hand, if you are continually tweaking a manuscript that has been finished for weeks, you may be stalled by the fear of rejection.

If either of the above sounds like you, here are three suggestions for writing through the problem:

  1. Don’t be afraid to rough draft. Write imperfect words, use imperfect grammar, and outline an imperfect plot. Once the words are down on paper, your internal editor can clean them up. (In the meantime, let her clean the house, while you write!)
  2. Don’t put off writing. I should write, but… won’t get anything written. The time to write is now. It’s a new year, remember? No more excuses. Set a time to write every day—even if for only half an hour—and stick to it.
  3. Remember that only One has been, is, and ever will be perfect. He died on a cross for our imperfections and set us forever free from that bond. Yes, we should strive to be better, but, thank God, we’re not required to be perfect. We are only called to do our best every day.

Well-known speaker and author Allen Arnold, who wrote The Story of With, recently tweeted, “The only one who has the power and perspective to validate your art is God. Ask what the Creator thinks and rest in that. Everyone else’s opinion—while sometimes helpful—is simply their limited, subjective view.”

Our ultimate desire shouldn’t be for ‘precision, exactness, and rightness in our work.’ Rather, our ultimate desire should be to write stories reflecting the perfect freedom that comes from resting in our Creator.

Late last year, I stepped out on faith and submitted an imperfect manuscript to my agent. It was the best I could do at the time.

Are you willing to do the same this year?

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Kathy Harris lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and writes romantic suspense and women’s fiction. She is represented by Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Agency. Read Kathy’s blog or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.




Comments 2

  1. Kathy, this is so helpful! Thank you for sharing that quote, as well! Here’s to a new year of embracing the imperfect to love more fully…

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