Gleanings: The Perfectionism Block and Pen on Fire

“See if this sounds familiar: You sit down to write and as the words begin to flow, you start to judge them. You cross out words or delete them. You fuss with sentences before they’ve even been written, and then you beat yourself up for not being good enough.” ~ Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, Pen on Fire.

It’s called the perfectionism trap. Perfect is the enemy of the good is a truth that comes to mind. It’s an affliction born in some of us, grown in others. The above paragraph describes perfectly much of my writing behavior for years, and on occasion in the present.

Yes, you have to stop it. I can testify to that. You have to, as DeMarco-Barrett says, “quiet that internal critic so you can be creative and allow whatever wants to come out to come out.”

Ah, but how does one do that? Let me say that I’ve had a knock-down-drag-out with the perfectionism compulsion. At the beginning of my career, I truly believed that an author was born. That somehow the ‘real’ authors just sat down and words poured forth in perfect arrangements. That if one was a ‘real’ writer, ideas just popped in full-blown and all the writer had to do was take dictation. I have heard more than one writer say this. I would now say that it is not that these writers are ‘real’ or perfect writers, but that they do not suffer from perfectionism. They are possessed of so great an ego that they firmly believe everything they think and write is gold, so they simply write it.

For the rest of we folk struck with sensitive perfectionism (and we perfectionists are invariably sensitive and actually quite talented) there ought to be a 12 Step program. Hello, I’m CurtissAnn, and I’m recovering from perfectionism. I need your support. The trait has affected not only my writing but all parts of my life, anything creative, and living life itself is a creative act.

So, I can give you the benefit of my hard-won recovery in this area. What has helped me the most is to know that there is no good to be found in perfectionism. None. Get that clear. Further, perfectionism is harmful. It’s a poison to good life.

Perfectionism is also useless, as worry is useless. And come to think of it, perfectionism is a form of worry–the worry that one is not good enough, not performing good enough, has not enough to offer. Well, doesn’t the world tell us that all the time? Don’t listen to the world. It lies.

Perfectionism is a lie. There is no such thing as attaining perfection on the earth, not in our writing nor in our lives. It is also a lie that we can be anything but what we are. So letting go of perfectionism is acceptance of who we are, our talent just as it is. It is another lie to say to ourselves (it is the lying voice of perfectionism) that we don’t know anything and can’t write something valuable. Take a look at humanity. Writing is natural to humans. Wanting to communicate is natural to humans. Some of us will have more writing talent than others. What we are each called to do is to use what we have to the best of our ability. Know that it is special in it’s way and fills a niche only it can fill.

If you’re wanting to write, you’ve read a lot. You can write when you’ve read a lot. You can write, and by writing a lot, you get better.

There. Now go write. Just write. Let yourself do it.

The above is the result of me doing free-writing, as encouraged in the book Pen on Fire. It is a great way to start writing.


(Laughing now: I was wanting an image to go with this post. I started looking at them all, couldn’t decide, wanted the ‘perfect’ one. Oh, my…let it go. Get writing, dear hearts.)

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