Three ways your perfectionism hinders your writing process and how to kick the habit.
Hi, my name is Faith, and I’m a recovering perfectionist. Whew. Feels good to share.
I feel the need to tweak, fine-tune and tinker with words, until time completely slips away from me.
Sound familiar? You might be a perfectionist, too.
Chances are, whenever you’ve been told you’re a perfectionist, the subtext was that it’s a good thing.
“Perfection is what drives you and motivates you to do your best work,” they say.
In many ways, they’re right.
Perfectionism only becomes a problem when you approach the peak of productivity and go too far, tip over the edge and roll (quickly) down the other side.
Here are three ways that perfectionism can hinder your writing and some steps you can take to prevent it:
1) You focus too much on the details and not enough on the big picture
When writing, it’s important to mind the details. However, sometimes you can get too in the weeds and lose sight of the overall strategy of the piece. It’s easy to get hung up on individual words, even the articles like “the,” when trying to find the perfect language to connect with your audience.
Although healthy amounts of tinkering can help hone the message, it can have the opposite effect when done in excess. When you double- and triple-guess your word choice, you potentially move farther from the target with each change. Your language becomes too formal or clunky. It may also veer away from your brand voice.
The solution: Write your first draft like you have the world’s best editor who will mind all the details for you. Don’t worry about changing one word three times to get the exact meaning across, or if you should move a sentence in the middle to the top. Just write.
Once you have everything down on paper, take a break and revisit it after a few minutes. Then, become your own world’s best editor. With the full picture in view, it will be much easier—not to mention quicker—to make the nitty-gritty decisions while staying true to the strategy.
2) Your creativity takes a hit
When you feel the need to get everything just right, you start to lose perspective. Your mindset shifts from “I can do all this” to “I can’t do it, at least not today.” This negative perspective will seep into your writing, and your words lose their impact.
The solution: Once your piece is in the editing stage, take a moment and ask yourself if it passes the “Toddler Test.”
Often when talking to toddlers, you have to compete with a million different stimuli for their attention. Sometimes you have to explain one concept a few different ways to win their focus. In this same vein, you can review your piece by asking questions like:
What will get the audience’s attention?
When I have it, will I keep it?
Do I need clever words to draw them in?
Is the message strong enough on its own?
Asking yourself these simple questions will help you think about your writing in fresh, new ways. Your words will pop from the page in ways they didn’t before.
3) You start to miss deadlines
The more you dissect your words and reformat your piece as you go, the longer it takes you to arrive at a first draft. By that time, your deadline is likely to have already passed or is quickly approaching.
The solution: Give yourself mini deadlines and one overall deadline for the piece. Structure your writing process so that you only allow so much time for writing, editing and proofreading.
Start off by writing two or three hours, depending on the project. Then, take a break and move into editing, and give yourself about the same amount of time as the writing phase. Once you have your draft where you like it, allow time for one last proofread.
If it helps, you can set a timer for each step to keep yourself accountable. By setting individual deadlines at each stage, it helps keep you on track and motivated to hitting your overall deadline.
Perfectionism is a hard habit to break. The impulse to tweak and tinker won’t disappear overnight. But with practice and some handy tricks, you’ll be able to focus on the big picture, stay on top of your creative game and hit those deadlines. You’ll be able to approach peak writing productivity time after time, without tipping over the edge.
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