The biggest problem of every perfectionist is that even things which are supposed to be fun, things which should fill us with joy and free our spirit, can become a chore. We can’t do stuff without worrying how well we’re doing, how useful it is, or how much it matters. We’re always trying to outsmart ourselves and others, and frequently forget to have fun along the way. And if we try to deal with this problem the way normal people do, we only end up making it worse.
What do normal people do when they don’t get the results they want? They apply pressure to themselves. If perfectionists try to follow the same route, piling external pressure on top of the pressure we always feel within, we drain ourselves and decrease our productivity.
When it comes to writing, we perfectionists do much better if we’re able to focus on one thing at a time, and invest our energy hunting for perfection—or at least piece of mind—in that one area.
When we write a manuscript, we should focus only on that, let our creativity flow freely and not try to also mind aspects that have nothing to do with that first stage of creation, like style and wordchoice, readability and marketability. When we revise and edit a manuscript, we should focus on one step at a time, first on plot and characters, then on setting, then on grammar, etc. Trying to do them all at once won’t allow us to reach the level of quality we demand of ourselves and it will leave us disappointed. And when it comes to blogging and networking, we must set clear boundaries—what do we want to achieve and how much are we willing to invest—and not try to do it all and do it perfectly. We can’t. No one can, but perfectionists still demand this of themselves. It’s a vice.
Multitasking is a modern myth. No human can truly multitask. What a multitasker does is actually switch really fast from one task to another and then back again. The energy expended in each project is much smaller than for non-multitaskers, not to mention the energy expended in the switch and keeping track of both task developments is lost. We could gain speed, but achieve lower quality. As perfectionists we aren’t interested in speed as much as quality, so multitasking is a bad idea.
Trying to write something new, while revising an old project, while trying to maintain an active public presence at the same time? AND taking care of family, job and household? That’s racing right down the Highway to Burn-Out.
Yes, there are people who can manage it all. It’s only a matter of efficient time management and discipline. And yes, perfectionists can do that too, but we don’t enjoy it. We start to hate our lives, and feel completely inadequate and out of tune with ourselves. We can’t enjoy doing things on the run, working a little over here, then a little over there, never quite finishing anything before switching to the next thing, never quite able to tell if we’ve done good or just wasted energy.
Perfectionists need a different kind of self-management. We have different definitions of what a “finished project” means, of what a “good job” is and how we can get there the fastest. We use different parameters and measurements to determine if we’re on the right track. It’s not enough to know we’re “working on something” at any given moment. We need much stricter prioritization, and we need the balls to make it clear to others that we’ll only follow OUR priorities, the way we know we work best, and not their way.
It’s not easy being a perfectionist.
Let me revise that—it sucks. It’s not desirable or “fancy” at all. Think real perfectionism is a synonym for exigence and excellence? Yeah… replace that with masochism.
Being unable to enjoy doing something without grading the result is not fun. Being unable to forgive oneself for making even tiny mistakes is not fun. Being unable to move on unless a project is beaten to death is really not fun. And on top of that, we’re experts at giving ourselves a guilty conscience over almost anything. Just make your pick, we’d be able to feel bad about how we’re doing it in ten minutes.
But what can we do?
Therapy is expensive, and we’d only constantly wonder if the therapist is as capable as his diploma says he is, and if the method he’s chosen is really working. (Yup, we’re a pain in the ass sometimes.)
Cognitive behavioral therapy suggests that perfectionism is best kept at bay through the constant reassurance that it’s OK to be imperfect, it’s OK to fail now and then, and it’s OK to take things slowly and one at a time. It’s also OK to just have fun with things without expecting any productive result. It’s OK to slack now and then, and it’s OK to make mistakes.
Does it get any easier?
Accepting mistakes is never easy for a perfectionist, not even after decades of training. But it becomes a calculated risk. It’s deducted from the amount of pressure we apply to ourselves. We get used to it. And then we realize we’re more productive now than we were back then, when we tried to get everything perfect all the time.
We realize that what we feared all along—cutting ourselves some slack, slowing down or tackling things one at a time—is in fact good for us. It unwinds us, allows us to breathe and work naturally, it frees us. WE SUDDENLY SHINE, like we always wanted to. And not because we drove ourselves to extremes and almost went mad in the process. Because we let go of internal pressure.
That’s the grand secret.
Stop pressuring yourself. You’re better off—and a better you—when you’re unconstrained. You get better results too!
Writing a manuscript? Fuck editing and censoring! Fuck grammar and style. Get the story down on paper the way it unfolds in your head. Be wildly creative. Don’t worry about rules, other commitments and duties you normally have. You’re a STORY BIRTHING GOD, there is no world beside the one you’re shaping. Now smite those worries and CREATE!
Revising or editing said manuscript? Fuck other stories! Fuck the internet and TV shows, fuck the Playstation and your favorite books. Don’t fill your head with other voices, other styles and other characters. Focus on the story in your hand, and let the world burn. Let it all burn down to ash, then roll around naked in that ash, because only you and your story matter right now.
Trying to build a name for yourself? How the hell are you going to do that without a finished work? Without a story to share, you’re sitting in a motor-less car. Flapping your arms in free-fall without a parachute. You’re BLEEDING CREATIVE ENERGY for naught! And man, fuck that platform and the publishing industry right with it. GO WRITE AND POLISH. And when your story is done and burning your fingers with eagerness to conquer the world—then you can dive into the crowd. Then you have something to show, regardless if it’s perfect or not. It’s YOURS. Hold your head high and your magnum opus into the sun, wrapped in glittery unicorn leather and blessed by virgin angel fairies. People will see you have walked the gauntlet and survived, and they will be happy with you. Then, and only THEN can you move on and begin a new project.
And if your family needs you, then jolly-well go take care of your loved ones! The people in your life, the ones who care about you and who stand by your side are much more important than any project. You can return to a dropped manuscript in ten years, but your sick aunt won’t be there anymore, your kids will have grown up, your spouse will have aged without you. You’ll never get that precious time back from people, but novels… novels can wait for you a life-time.
Set your priorities straight.
Take one thing at a time.
Enjoy your life.
Accept delays, complications, and mistakes.
True happiness does not come from perfection, but from acceptance and living in the moment.