I used to be a perfectionist and mighty proud of it too.
I believed perfectionism was a good quality to have and to nurture.
It demonstrated that you took your work seriously and only put out your best work out there into the world.
A few years ago I started to write a novel. I got through one whole sheet of paper before I noticed a grammatical error. So I stopped writing and went back to fix it.
Then I spotted a spelling error. So I started to fix that too.
Then I noticed I had repeated the same word multiple times and so pulled out my thesaurus and began searching for another word.
And I kept on searching for the perfect word. I knew it was there somewhere but I just couldn’t find it.
This went on for a whole week. And I had not produced any new content or progressed my story. I was still stuck at that first page because I wanted it to be perfect.
Then life got in the way and my focus diverted to other pressing tasks and I forgot about that perfectly written page.
A few weeks ago I rediscovered that sheet of paper and re-read it. I had written a superbly wonderful opening to a story I had been planning to write all those years ago.
It really could have been a wonderful story that inspired and entertained.
Instead it had remained unwritten because I had not finished it. I hadn’t got past the first page. Instead I had been too concerned with grammar, spelling and other things that really didn’t matter in the first draft stage.
And then I looked closely and realised that the story had been unwritten not because I couldn’t find the right words or wanted to correct the spelling, but because I had wanted the page to be perfect. And I wanted it to be perfect because I didn’t want anyone to say it was rubbish.
I was afraid someone would hate it.
So I had stopped writing it.
I had been too afraid to continue writing, worried it would be horrible. So instead of pushing past the first page, I stopped at the end of the page and started to edit the page. I had let fear win.
When this happens, you cannot move forward or grow as a writer. To grow, you need to give yourself space to fall over and make mistakes.
This is true of any endeavour. Its true in writing and its true in business. You cannot score 100% straight out the gate. Those who do have typically put in years of practice beforehand and have been falling over behind closed doors.
As Ann Lamont says:
Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.
Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here — and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.
Key Learning Take-Aways:
- Perfectionism moonlights as a friend but is really fear.
- Allow yourself to be afraid, embrace it and then face it.
- Turn to your fear and say in the sweetest way possible ‘i acknowledge your existence but I choose to not be influenced by you’.
- And then get on with that first shitty draft. Don’t stop till you get to the end.
- Allow yourself the privilege of writing a wonderful shitty first draft.
Allow your word processor to highlight errors in red and grammatical error in green. Your job at this stage is to just keep typing.
Pour those thoughts out onto the page, all of them, whether they sound right or rubbish. At this stage all ideas and possibilities are allowed.
This is the only way I managed to get through my first draft of my forthcoming book ‘How To Find Your Passion and Live With Purpose’.
My inner critic was loud in my ear every time I sat down to write.
But the more I wrote and the more consistently I applied this practice, the more muted my fear became.
Now that I have finished my first draft I do have slight apprehension to go back and review the document. There is a part of me that fears it will be a hideous draft.
But there is another part of me who is excited and eager to start reviewing, improving and more importantly, growing in my craft.
This is what creation looks like. From the mess emerges the art. And this is what motivates me, excites me and encourages me to keep going. Because getting to the end of the first draft on any book is a worthy celebration.