Writers who try to be perfect are less likely to get published because they never finish! Here are tips for overcoming perfectionism for writers from a full-time freelance writer who more often than not hits “send” before an article pitch is ready (I polish articles until they gleam, but am trigger happy with my pitches!).
Before my tips, here’s a quip from Erica Jong:
“I went for years not finishing anything,” said Jong, author of Fear of Flying. “Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged…I had poems that were re-written so many times I suspect it was just a way of avoiding sending them out.”
Perfectionism for writers can lead to paralysis, procrastination, and pressure – but not publication. For more info about perfectionism, click on The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life by Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD – it’s a excellent read. And, read on for my tips on overcoming perfectionism for writers…
4 Tips for Overcoming Perfectionism for Writers
1. Try to fail more often! “One of my wishes for my students is that they should fail more often,” writes Ben-Shahar. “If they fail frequently, it means that they try frequently, that they put themselves on the line and challenge themselves.” To overcome perfectionism, keep reminding yourself that the most successful writers in history are the ones who failed the most. Your book, query, or proposal may not be perfect – but it exists. It may not get published – but you sent it out there.
2. Snuggle up to failure and criticism. A woman recently told me that she doesn’t like strangers criticizing her writing, so she only shows her unpublished book to certain people. Fellow scribes, if you want to be a successful writer you have to get comfortable with criticism and rejection! It can be heartbreaking (or just annoying) to get feedback about your writing, but it will make you a better writer. Show your imperfect article pitches, book proposals, and novels to whoever will read them – and learn to embrace their honest reactions. (This doesn’t mean you have to apply suggestions, it just means accept them with an open mind and heart).
3. Reframe how you see rejection. To overcome procrastination as a writer, stop seeing rejections or criticism as shameful, or as evidence of weakness or lack of talent. Instead, see failure as something associated with healthy risk, uncertainty, and improvement. “If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate,” said Thomas J. Watson. Learn to view the rejections or criticisms you get from editors, publishers, agents, or fellow writers as stepping stones to publishing success. This will keep you writing confidently and boldly!
4. Balance harsh reality with high hopes. No matter how perfect your book proposal, novel, or article pitch is – it may never get published. That’s the harsh reality: it’s hard to get published and earn money from writing. To overcome perfectionism, you need to accept that some brilliant works never see the light of day. Instead of agonizing over every detail in your writing, make sure your work is the best you can do. Not perfect….just your very best.
What are your tips for overcoming perfectionism, fellow scribes? Are you a perfectionist – and does it lead to procrastination or paralysis?
I'm glad you're here! My name is Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen; my husband Bruce and I live in Vancouver, BC with our critters. We can't have kids, and are learning to accept whatever life brings - both good and bad. I have an MSW (Master of Social Work) from UBC, and degrees in Education and Psychology. I hope you say hello and share your thoughts below. If not, go well....and don't forget to come back! :-)