Reading that title might have you scratching your head. What is tricky about perfection? What could possibly be wrong with it? Surely it’s a good thing to try our best and strive to improve. And indeed, conventional wisdom tells us that if we write the perfect book, have the perfect social media presence, and conduct the perfect marketing campaign—success will be ours!
But perfection isn’t that simple and there is a difference between striving for excellence as a way to do our best versus chasing the illusion that any human creative endeavor can be perfect. Striving for your best work is vastly different from holding yourself to impossibly perfect standards.
Perfection is the trickster god of virtues because it fools you into thinking it IS a virtue. That it’s an indicator of how much you care, how hard you work, how dedicated you are. But in reality, perfection is often not about any of those things. It is an unattainable, unreachable illusion and in pursuing it, we often kill or destroy some of the most human and joyous experiences available to us.
Perfection insists that we perform our lives rather than live them. That we allow external measures to shape and control our happiness rather than our own lived experiences, and therein lies its peril.
Some hints you might be a perfectionist are:
- If you are filled with great ideas but never quite manage to get them down because you know you can’t do justice to them.
- If you simply cannot give yourself permission to write a crappy first draft.
- If you find yourself polishing the same three chapters over and over again and never get any farther in the book.
- If you find yourself researching or world-building for YEARS in order to get everything right but have not actually written any parts of the story yet.
- If a lot of your self-talk includes words like: sub-standard, lacking, idiot, loser, fail, disappointing, unworthy.
But wait! Even if you got through that list and didn’t see yourself, you’re not free yet because overachieving is a form of perfection. (Remember that Trickster God of Virtues, thing.) So you might also be a perfectionist if:
- You do every. single. possible. thing. promoting your book to the point of physical, emotional, and financial exhaustion.
- You are a workaholic—never allowing yourself to fill the well or take a vacation or delegate a task.
- You are on such a hamster wheel of deadlines and contracts that you no longer even enjoy your work and your creativity is on life support.
This kind of perfectionism is often rooted in a need to exceed expectations and be above reproach. It is one, I might add, that writers are especially vulnerable to because there is such a degree of luck in any writer’s success and we feel we must do everything in our power to earn and justify it.
So what’s a perfectionist to do?? [Read more…]