Why My Perfectionism Is Holding Me Back

If you caught my last newsletter that went out on Tuesday, I was talking about weaknesses (thanks to everyone who replied to share their weaknesses).  No one likes to think about their weaknesses, especially when they are having a big impact, but it’s something we all should do.

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A Deep Root

Perfectionism was not just in my writing; it had wormed its way into almost everything.  It had grown and burrowed its way in, demanding everything be better.

Through my entire life, there has been the understanding, enforced by schools, college, work etc that I should always be striving higher, pushing further.  Everything I do can be better and I should never stop stretching.

Now I wasn’t some genius-level prodigy where such crushing expectations are often place.  I was average and while I excelled at somethings, I didn’t, at a lot more.  But the drive to be better, try harder never eased up.

Even when I realised, I had sometimes hit my limitations, that push never really stopped.

Eventually, such pressure becomes internalised, and I didn’t need teachers, supervisors or bosses telling me that I needed to strive for perfection.  I could do that to myself, I could hold the whip that drove me.

Perfectionism Is a Lie

What’s frustrating is we all know this.  It is unobtainable.  Also, not everyone is ever going to reach dizzying height of awesome – especially not in everything they try and that’s okay.

It doesn’t mean we aren’t going to keep learning, growing, changing, adapting.  But this should be at an acceptable pace, one where we can enjoy the journey.

So, perfectionism is a lie, a myth, something unachievable.  I understand that, intellectually, but it’s hard to silence or even muffle that Inner Critic that demands it.  The one that looks at everything I do and says, “It’s good, but you can do better.”

That Critic can be useful, it helps to move us forward, gets us being better.  But there has to be a stopping point.  If the Critic doesn’t ease up on the pressure, then books would never get published, music never released, movies never finished.

There has to be a point where we can stand back and say “yes, this is as good as I can make it.”

Perfectionism Is Stifling

My perfectionism has been growing over the last few years, and it’s started to dominate my writing.  I know I’m a good writer, and with work I could be better.  But instead of enjoying the process, every little thing is picked apart.

I can’t stop editing, I can’t stop stressing that my scenes are too weak, that my character voices aren’t strong enough.  When I get outside opinions, I get good feedback and it can help balance me against the Inner Critic.

But sometimes, that voice is so demanding that I end up hoarding my work and can’t show anyone – not until it’s perfect!

How I’m Handling It

I was forced to acknowledge how bad my perfectionism was recently, and so, before I could think too much, I reached out to a respected friend and writer and asked them to be a beta reader.  I gave them a month I’d have it ready for them.

This has created an external deadline and accountability.  I can ignore my own deadlines and don’t feel accountable to myself, but I don’t like wasting other people’s time.  So by “booking” them in for a certain month, I don’t want to mess them about.

Already my procrastination has been digging its heels in.  Though surprisingly, it did allow me to work on a different writing project.  So that’s better than nothing.  But I am having to micromanage my own thoughts, constantly pull myself up on spiralling perfectionist thoughts.

By creating this deadline, I am taking away the chance to obsess over every little thing of my story.  I have to get it down, get it edited, alpha read, edited so it’s ready for my Beta.

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I’ll keep you posted on whether I manage to take some control over my Inner Critic and get my story to my beta reader.

NOTE: To my newsletter subscribers, sorry for the delay in uploading the Story Log to The Library.  It has now been added for you to download.

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Happy writing & stay safe

Signature & logo of Ari Meghlen

tiny-ko-fi_icon_rgb_strokeI write articles on writing, marketing, blogging, organising, social media, books and some random stuff.  I also create free printable resources.  If you find my content helpful, entertaining and like what I do, consider supporting me on ko-fi (where you will also find extra content I post).  All donations go to keeping my website running and helping me move towards publishing my novels.

8 thoughts on “Why My Perfectionism Is Holding Me Back

  1. There is a fine line for sure. I really like that part of me that always wants to keep learning and trying to get to new heights. However, I am also realistic about my limits. One needs to know when it’s ‘enough.’ It seems to me that many people use anything as ‘enough’ and it bothers me. Mediocrity is a thing, but if you have the potential for more…. why settle? So, when I say ‘enough,’ I don’t just mean anything. I mean ‘enough.’

    That made a whole lot of sense to me in my head but I don’t think it translated well into words…

    I just wanted to say that I appreciate you for trying to do/be better. You might not touch me directly, but I wish for more people like that in the world, so just keep in mind that while the trait can be destructive, it is also very valuable. Just learn to wield and control it on your terms.

    Good luck with the deadline!

    1. “Mediocrity is a thing” it really is!! I see more and more people just content with settling and doing very little to learn, stretch their potential.

      No one is saying run marathons up mountains, but I see so many people these days who don’t even have hobbies!

      Hobbies are great for doing something interesting, and expanding your skills, abilities and talents. And there are so many free services, videos, tutorials where you can just try and learn new things.

      I know people close to me who won’t even try new things because they know they won’t be instantly good at it. Like, no, but you can learn and develop.

      With the writing, it’s harder because there isn’t a clear level of skill that noticable.

      If I did martial arts, I would know I was progressing well because I’d move through the belts, I’d be able to see the progress through how well I fought and how often I won etc.

      But writing can be so nebulous so the Inner Critic really gets his nails in! lol

      I

    1. No, it really isn’t. Knowing it, doesn’t help us overcome it, we just have to keep pushing ahead, small steps and not letting it hold us back. I wish you the best with your battle against perfectionism too.

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