Why Fear and Perfectionism Should Make You Write More

There is nothing so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. — William James

Photo credit: StockUnlimited

When it comes to writing, everyone has their own method of producing. The mechanics of it remain pretty consistent across genre. Sit. Write. Proofread/Edit. Write more. Proofread/Edit again. Release your baby into the world.

Often we get hung-up in the process. We collect drafts, and note ideas or phrases without re-visiting them, and truly working on shaping them into something meaningful. This is largely because of fear and perfectionism. It is tiring. Instead of being intimidated by our demons, we should use them to make us write more.

Perfectionism is often a reflection of our sentiments about our inadequacies. It juxtaposes our expectation with our output, and often if the latter is lacking, we make huge generalizations about our capacity at present and what it means going forward.

It hurts not to live up to your own hype. To not write something beautiful, or craft words as poetic as you believe you have the capacity to produce, is painful.

When you don’t live up to who you think you are or could be, it captures and mostly explains perfectionism. We have a desire to produce our very best, to create our most prolific content as writers — each time we place pad to pen, or fingers to keyboard — constructing our very best.

It pains us when we can’t generate our best work — we define ourselves by the failure. The surest way to free ourselves of becoming mired in our imperfection is to practice.

To work beyond this fear of not producing, and the sense of not finishing what you started, you must practice — deliberately. Deliberate practice means you engage in the work, study the best works, practice regularly (knowing that your study influences your output), measure your production, continue producing, and define how, specifically, you aim to get better after each endeavor.

Engaging in recursive writing is necessary to improve as a writer. Drafting and editing are tedious but are essential parts of this experiment. Write. Stink. Write some more. Stink a little less. Keep writing. Eventually, you’ll get somewhere.

The central insight is that our fear and our perfectionism prevent us from engaging in a way that improves us and helps us to achieve. You can be better than your last effort, if you press forward, and attempt to write through your fear and inadequacy.

Evolution is a process. It requires you to read Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and On Writing Well, as much as it requires you actually to write. If you sit, and plan, and hope, and pray to be perfect and better, without having done the work, you will never become what you think you ought to be.This is fact.

When we continue planning to produce our best work, without actually engaging the drudgery of writing, we short-change ourselves of experience. Your best self is the one that shows up and struggles each day. The one that strives towards its end.

If you don’t live with that being, if you are not writing and actively working towards occupying her essence — living up to her best effort — you are actively working against yourself. In this case, you have created a formula for depriving yourself of the future you desire.

Being good and being good at it are two different things. You can have an ideal of who you are and how much you want to contribute to the world through your efforts and skills, but if you are not sharpening those skills, your grandeur is simply daydreaming — for your contributions are non-existent.

Seeking to become better and to create more is a common desire. We can only make it manifest with the work that comes with making dreams real. And that is practice. Keep doing until you get the hang of it. It will become less of a hobby and more a serious endeavor with regular practice.

Accustom yourself to being uncertain about how well you are writing. Get used to editing afterward. Wrap your mind around the fact that you must study to improve. This is a necessary task.

Surround yourself with a community of people who strive for the same thing — rest assured that they/we/I have the same struggle. Being in the environment that inspires you to show up in your best and most capable way, is the solution, the antidote to perfectionism.

Perfectionism wants you to wait until you get better — practice says do until you make manifest. Only one of these is correct.

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