Combating Perfectionism With Perspective

I’m in the thick of drafting the second book in my series while a host of anxieties rage against me. The worst is the pressure to deliver an amazing story. I’ve gone through several rounds of edits with the first book, and, naturally, it’s shiny and beautiful. So what is this mess of 45,000 words and counting on my laptop? Will it ever be as smart and tidy? Will my unruly character, who loves to torment me by veering from my outline, ever fall back in with the vision I have for her story? And why don’t my words sound as pretty as the NYT bestselling novel on my nightstand?

Sound familiar? This whispering demon is called perfectionism. It likes to feed off of authors’ insecurities, and, let me tell you, it is fat with our doubts. Luckily, I’m a fighter, and I’ve learned a
valuable tool with which to defend myself from perfectionism: perspective.

A friend of mine from high school, ToriAnn Perkey, has a vlog where she teaches three principles for achieving perspective. They are simple, powerful, and so effective when applied to writing.

First, you honor where you’ve been. 

Now is a good time to pull out the first draft of the first manuscript you ever completed. Back in the day, my author dad tried to read that first chapter I’d labored over for months. He made it as far as one-and-a-half pages before he told me everything I was doing wrong and lent me his favorite writing craft book. I’ve learned a ton since then. It isn’t fair to compare my work-in-progress to my edited, polished, and soon-to-be-published novel, but I can compare a first draft to an old first draft. That’s when I can objectively say, “Hey, look where I once was. Look how far I’ve come. This is proof that I continue to get better.” I can also pat that aspiring author I used to be on the back and say, “Good job. You had to start from somewhere. You knew so little. Look what you created when you knew so little!”

Second, embrace where you are right now. 

Remind yourself you have a hard-earned skill set. You’ve been through the mess of drafting before, and somehow the work gets polished by the end. There are always ups and downs to be endured while drafting. This isn’t the first time you’ve felt defeated or wondered if you’ve made the right choice to trust your character over your outline. She’s smarter than you are. You’ve learned this too. She’s going to keep forging ahead, dragging a kicking and whining author mother behind her if she has to. If you stop struggling, you might make friends with her before the end. Then maybe she’ll listen if you want to nudge her back into formation (at least a baby step). The struggle of drafting often means something beautiful is about to hatch on the page. When creation happens, division happens. You know this. You’ve done this before. Why not embrace the chaos this time?

Third, after embracing where you are, look forward to where you want to go. 

In other words, have a bright vision for your future. Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t there yet. Instead, find hope in looking for solutions that will bring you to the goal you desire. I’ve had two agents and three manuscripts on submission before I sold my fourth manuscript (the first in a trilogy). I’m no stranger to the patience it takes to get this far. But the truth is there will always be some aspect of publishing out of reach for me, something I ache to have. There is also always something to have an ulcer about. How will my sales do? Will I ever sell another book again? Will my book be reviewed well? Will I ever have another amazing book idea?

So many of these worries are out of my control. What I can control is writing a book to the best of my ability. For little windows of time, I can shut out the world and its expectation of me (at least according to my perceptions) and dream big and build other worlds and channel my emotions into various combinations of the twenty-six characters of the alphabet. My joy in writing will give me confidence in my vision of a successful career. That is a far better way to see the future than worrying about all the ways it can fail. I can also increase my skill set by continuing to read novels and stay up on the market, by attending conferences and reading writing craft books. Education never ends. Writers never know it all. I love to learn, and rather than being impatient that I don’t know it all, I can embrace and treasure each new thing I come to understand.

So the next time you feel like you’re not a good enough writer, that your characters are flat and running in circles, that your plot is tired and your descriptions not fresh enough—and a million other depressing thoughts while drafting—try to turn off your perfectionism by grounding yourself with perspective, because embracing where you are right now is where you’ll find your true happy place.

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Kathryn Purdie’s love of storytelling began as a young girl when her dad told her about Boo Radley while they listened to the film score of To Kill a Mockingbird. Her own attempts at storytelling usually involved home video productions featuring her younger sister as a nerd or writing plays to perform with the neighborhood kids. In high school and college, she focused on acting, composing sappy poetry, singing folk ballads on her guitar, and completing at least ten pages in her journal every night. When she was in recovery from donating a kidney to her brother, inspiration for her first novel struck. She’s been writing darkly fantastical stories ever since. Kathryn is represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary.

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