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Overcoming Reverse Perfectionism in Writing

I would never call myself a perfectionist. In fact, my family would probably fall over laughing at that description. But perhaps I’m really what I like to call a “reverse perfectionist”, meaning I often won’t start a project if I don’t think I can get it 100% correct the first time. Maybe it’s just a fear of failure, but whatever I call it—it’s PROCRASTINATION! And when I put that self-imposed limit on my writing, I end up with a blank page. And here’s a little inside secret; writers can’t revise something that hasn’t been written!

I have been reading Ann Whitford Paul’s excellent book, Write Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication, and I’ve found it to be very inspirational. She gives some excellent advice on page 11:

“Remember, your first draft will rarely be ready to submit to an editor. Just as milk needs churning to become ice cream, your draft will need revision to become publishable. Get your story down and you’ll have something to work with.”

Those words make me ask myself—how much am I churning? How about you?

To overcome my tendencies to be a reverse-perfectionist writer, I’ve found the following tips and strategies to be very helpful:

1. Just Do It - Just get your ideas down on paper without stopping to analyze or make corrections. Turn off the inner editor and don’t stem the flow.

2. Junk Is Okay – Even if you think what you write is worthless junk, it’s better to get it on paper and discard it later than not write at all. Writing needs to become a habit. Besides, once the process is started, it’s easier to keep the momentum going. And the longer you write, the better chance you’ll have of writing something you can revise.

3. A Timer Is Your Friend – When I’m really in a bad reverse perfectionism slump, I can set the timer for fifteen minutes and tell myself that I can do anything for that short amount of time. Usually however, those fifteen minutes turn into a much longer writing session. Once again, momentum is the key. But if a time crunch is the problem…

4. Bits and Pieces Add Up – Some writers don’t want to tackle a writing project unless they have a large chunk of time to devote to it. However, I’m a busy wife and homeschool mom, and I know from experience that little bits of writing time here and there do add up over time. It’s not the ideal scenario, but ten or fifteen minutes throughout the day can equal a couple of hours of writing time. And that doesn’t include the ‘thinking time’ when I’m in between tasks. It can be done.

5. Have a Writing Day/Night – One night a week, my family graciously allows me to slip away to the library for a few hours of writing time. This hasn’t always been an option for me, but it’s a luxury I’m able to enjoy now since my youngest children aren’t babies anymore. Because I know I’m ‘on the clock’ I can really buckle down and get some serious writing done—I make it count! Actually, I think it’s called focus!

6. Someday May Never Come – Today is the day! If I let my reverse perfectionism take over by waiting until ‘someday’ when I will have more time or feel I can turn out a masterpiece on the first try—that ‘someday’ will probably never come. I will have a bunch of blank pages in a notebook or empty files in my computer.

I have to keep reminding myself that anything I write is better than nothing at all. I tell my inner reverse perfectionist voice that a few words become a sentence, and a few sentences become a paragraph. Several paragraphs become a page, and pages become a manuscript. With this mentality, the pages will add up. No, my work won’t be perfect or 100% complete, but at least I’ll have material that I can craft, edit, revise and polish into something special.

*This is an article I previously published over the National Writing for Children Center.


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