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A letter to my perfectionist friend: Follow your calling

Dear friend who says she has not started her book because she is a perfectionist:

Yesterday when we talked, you said you had an idea for a book but hadn’t started it yet. You cited being a “perfectionist” as the reason you’ve been blocked.

Give yourself a break. Writing by its nature is imperfect. Our pages are works in progress. Writing is a messy business. Words and ideas rarely flow onto the page the way we picture them in our minds. Sentences may feel awkward. Just when we think we know where our story is going, it stalls.

Beyond certain principles of storycraft, writing, like many other art forms, is subjective. No one writes a “perfect” manuscript on the first try. That’s why they’re called “drafts.”

Blank pages are clean and crisp – and boring.

You will find fulfillment in following your heart, not by being perfect. Trust the process. Trust yourself. I know you have a story inside you and characters clamoring to speak. Give them a voice.

Take a step of faith, just write. Then revise and refine your sentences. In doing so, you will have experienced the mysterious and magical act of creation. And in that moment, you will see perfection itself.

If I do not fulfill

my heart’s vocation,

I suffer.

–St. Thomas Aquinas

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. adimauro #

    Great advice, but not just for writing! I am a recovering perfectionist. I loved writing when I was younger, and I always wrote several drafts. Then I became a Web developer. I saw all these amazing, polished web sites all around me, and started to strive for perfection from the get-go…and it just led to numerous projects that either stalled, or never even got started. It took me a while to realize that those perfect, polished sites went through many iterations, and where not perfect from the beginning. Photography is another ‘perfect’ example.

    This article put it all into perspective, and reminded me that when I was younger, I didn’t have any trouble being ‘imperfect’. I would just write whatever came to mind. Some of it good, some of it bad. But, after many revisions, a lot of the rough edges went away. In some ways, you could say that ‘imperfection’ is the road to ‘perfection’. Although, there is always that voice inside you that says ‘I could have done that part differently…’, so I’m not sure if ‘perfection’ is ever truly reached.

    Now that I am getting back into writing, this is a valuable lesson. It applies to other areas of life, too. Perfectionism leads to blocks in most situations. Unless you are, for example, launching a $100 million satellite into space, you don’t need to be perfect the first time out!

    Thanks for the reminder!

    March 27, 2012
    • I love your statement, “In some ways you could say that ‘imperfection’ is the road to perfection.” I too strive to return to my younger days when I didn’t think about being perfect. Thanks for your comment!

      March 27, 2012

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