12 Tips to Overcome Perfectionism for Writers

I’m embarrassed to share this, but I have 65K words in a Scrivener database and 80 unseen blog post drafts collecting dust in WordPress. 

Hiding is painful, yet reasonable excuses are endless. If we don’t challenge these reasons for hoarding our creativity, we might end up buried alive in manuscripts and brilliant but fading pages.

To free the mind and body of the constriction perfectionism places on them, we must create movement and flow. Let’s dig into these actionable tips and resources and overcome perfectionism together.

1. Change How You See Your Inner Critic

What if you could push that inner critic down so far back into the shadows she’d find those single lost socks you haven’t seen since 2011? Maybe that’s what causes writer’s block. You successfully strangle the inner enemy and the unexpected side effect is the silencing of creativity.

What if your inner critic wasn’t your enemy at all? What if a little love and compassion could make that critical voice softer and more secure? 

When we seek to numb or quash the parts of ourselves we aren’t so keen on, we also suffocate the brilliant and joyous aspects. To overcome perfectionism and produce work we can feel happy with, we must give the inner critic a good dose of compassion and change how we respond to tough emotions. 

perfectionism writing

Find out more about healing your inner critic…

2. Address Imposter Syndrome by Dancing the 2-Step

In the podcast The Long and the Short of It, Pete Sheppard suggests using the Imposter Two-Step to get past the ubiquitous Imposter Syndrome.

Step 1 – Ask yourself what the critical voice is saying. Step 2 – Respond to that inner voice with your truth.

Don’t let those thoughts take up space without addressing them. Sometimes confronting these doubts head-on is just what’s needed to diminish their power over your choices. I highly recommend listening to the linked podcast episode on this topic.

3. Know Your Value is Not Dependent on Achievement and Mastery Requires Practice

Intellectually, we can be aware that worth isn’t dependent on what one accomplishes, but the subconscious mind may be running on outdated beliefs that anything less than perfect is a failure. This part of ourselves needs a reminder that practice promises improvement, not perfection.overcome perfectionism

You may be naturally good at many things. You may not even have to try very hard to be good at most things. Practice is something even brilliant artists need to become masters of their craft. Know that anything new requires effort and mistakes.

Really take a few moments to sit with this thought – without doing or achieving anything, you are worthy of love, respect, kindness, and patience. Give those things to yourself and the grip of perfectionism will loosen.

4. Mistakes Can Be How Progress is Made

There’s no avoiding making mistakes. Instead of trying to subvert the inevitable, work like a scientist.

Scientists don’t set out to prove themselves right, that would lead to uninformed conclusions. They create a hypothesis and try to prove it wrong. This is how discoveries are made.

We experiment and improve by figuring out where we went wrong and observing what worked. Make mistakes and you’re making progress!

5. Overcome Perfectionism by Creating Community

Interrupt the cognitive dissonance of unrealistic standards by enlisting outside reviewers you can trust at every stage of the writing process.

Have a couple of writer friends look at an early draft. Get a fellow blogger, author or freelancer to check out your midpoint work. When it’s in the final stages, have a mentor or senior writer give their input.

This won’t be necessary for every piece of work you do, but it can certainly help move your greater works along the pipeline and give you valuable skills and connections too.

For more details on this step, check out Kerry Ann Rockquemore’s invaluable advice on writing and procrastination here.

6. Know your writing process and set realistic expectations. Avoid procrastination.
For most writers this involves a process of initial drafting, editing, sharing, discussing, revising, presenting, more revising, and submitting. If you can get clear about what your actual process looks like … then you can start to have realistic expectations about each stage of the process and your timelines for finishing manuscripts.Kerry Ann Rockquemore

Structure and self- awareness will free your mind from unrealistic expectations and help you have a better relationship with time. We often overestimate how much we can get done in the time we have available. This can cause stress, procrastination, and burnout.

Give yourself more time than you need for projects and become mindful of how much time each step of your writing process requires.

7. Create a mind-map

Maybe you’re like me, and you’re a visual-thinker. Create a mind map to visualize all that’s involved in your topic. Plot out the main idea and branch off into questions, answers, problems, and related ideas.

If you’re feeling blocked, this could be just the thing to get those wheels turning again. You could even include the visual in your published post or article.

8. Freewrite first

Do you find it easy to write inspired Facebook comments or insightful journal entries, but when you go to write a blog post or academic paper you freeze? Capture that feeling of spontaneous flow anytime using the freewrite method.

Don’t censor your words or think about the purpose of your writing. Let anything and everything flow from you. This intuitive rhythm of writing will undoubtedly produce something you can incorporate or massage into a rough draft.

Overthinking and imposing unnecessary structure on your creative mind can halt the process of developing ideas. Let go and free those words.

Learn more about free-writing here.

9. Create a recipe for focus

Use a timer or word count motivation to put some fun and excitement into drafting written works. Let music trigger your creative process. Set up a recipe for success and do it every time you sit down to write. D. Allision Lee wrote an excellent blog post about staying focused while writing here.

When I hit play on my Vaporwave playlist, that first song immediately gets me into a writing groove. If you write regularly and pair it with a set of habits, like playing a particular playlist, you’re tapping into the power of your adaptive unconscious. Focus can become second nature when it’s a learned practice.

10. Don’t edit until you have distance from your writing

Han Solo in Carbonite by William Warby

Don’t read your writing until the next day, the next week, or at least a few hours later. Distance = objectivity.

I tend to write a sentence and immediately read it over, obsessing over each word, immersing myself in the piece so inextricably I feel as though I’m Han Solo in carbonite.

For the love of muffins, do not take that route if you want to overcome perfectionism.

Of course there will always be more you can do, but you have to remind yourself that perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
11. Soothe Your Nervous System

If you’re really stuck – your body may be the answer.

I’ll wager while you’re in the grip of an episode of self-critical brain freeze your body is also feeling tense. You might be holding your breath and sitting for hours with your shoulders up to your ears.

Those deeply embedded fears of not being good enough are stored in your body as sensory memories. To change your response mentally, try responding to emotions in a new way physically.

Practice breathwork, meditation, and somatic experiencing. Make these beautiful practices part of your every day, and you may notice a new you forming.

12. Change creative mediums

Take a break from writing and make a collage, draw the tree outside your window, do a little karaoke or have a dance party. Any creative activity can get your writing juices flowing.

Try switching from typing at your computer to handwriting. When done writing, edit in a new location. Anything that forces the brain to switch gears can dig you out of a snowbank of perfectionism or writer’s block.

By relaxing our grip on the inordinate need for perfection we create a better emotional atmosphere to experience actualization.Marsha Sinetar, Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics

Overcoming perfectionism and developing creative flow is a journey that requires patience, practice, time, and often silence.

In this silence, we go inside ourselves and learn the skills of self-trust and self-acceptance. We integrate our strengths and weaknesses into a realistic concept of our whole self. This is the core of how to overcome perfectionism.

overcome perfectionism

Let me know in the comments what your favorite tips from the post were and if you have anything you’d like to add.

 

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