When Fear of Perfection Keeps You From Writing

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

It’s been a rough past couple of weeks. Do you ever get stuck in a rut where you have a lot of creative projects you want to work on, but you have no energy to do them? That’s been me for awhile.

I think part of it is that I have a stressful job. I even had an anxiety-induced dream the other night where the woman who replaced me at my old job was pointing out all the errors in the magazine I help produce now while laughing at me. I blew up at her and stormed out of the room, then instantly regretted losing my cool. Then I woke up from that dream angry with myself for being so worried in the first place. (For the record, I've never met my replacement but I clearly have some issues!)

In the past two weeks I’ve gotten two rejection letters from literary journals for a short story that I think is one of the best things I’ve ever written. One of those rejections was on Valentine’s Day, right as I was about to leave for dinner with my husband. That wasn’t great timing and I wish I hadn’t looked at my e-mail.

I have a podcast I need to be working on and another idea for a short story. But lately I’ve felt too discouraged to even open a Word document to get ideas down on paper. This could also be part of the winter blues I usually get, so today I told myself I was going to quit feeling sorry for myself.

I saw a great quote from a podcaster I follow that said “You have to work harder on yourself than you do on your job.” I read it twice and let the words sink in.

This time last year I was absolutely miserable in a job I felt like I was failing at daily. I wasn’t sleeping. I cried a lot. I ate too much and leaned on alcohol more than I should have. After one night of letting my mind wander down the darkest path while my family slept, I knew I had to make a change. I sought out the help of a therapist and have been going to weekly appointments. Having a place to reaffirm my worth, work through painful childhood memories and vent about work stress has been a lifesaver. I got a new job opportunity that was more suited to my talents. I cut back the alcohol, started eating more mindfully and began writing daily goals and affirmations in a journal. I exercise at least 30 minutes a day five or six days a week. And I started sleeping again.

Today when I started wallowing in Misery City, I reminded myself of the above. People are truly excited about the podcast I’m putting together--it won't be perfect at first and that's okay. And Margo Dill has inspired me with her posts about self publishing. I have some great stories that I can put together in one anthology and produce myself. Once I launch my podcast, I can also launch my short story collection.

No, I’m not perfect and neither is my writing. But I haven’t done this much work on myself to quit now.

Have you ever let fear of perfection keep you from putting pen to paper? How do you break past that barrier?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and magazine editor who also blogs at FinishedPages.com.


Marcia Peterson said...

Perfectionist here raising my hand. ;) It sounds like you've made some hard but positive changes, and are finding new inspiration via your podcast and short story project. Keep going, and keep up the self care and self-kindness. We are all rooting for you!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Renee, I relate to your post! I'm also a perfectionist, and it can make everything seem overwhelming and insurmountable. But the thing about perfection is... there's no such thing. That's what I always remind myself. I've also learned over the years that the only way to create meaningful art--whatever the medium--is to Let Go. It's the only way you can tap into your subconscious where all the great ideas are stored. :)

Have you tried meditation? Or creative writing when you first wake up and are still sort of in a dream state? There's a book on that by Robert Olen Butler called From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction, where he uses a process called "Dreamstorming." You could turn that nightmare about your "replacement" into one heck of a story. ;)

You've come so far this past year! I know how much work you've put in, and I'm so proud of you. I'm excited about your podcast, and I LOVE your short story, so please don't give up finding a home for it. I also love the short story collection idea. :) I hear you on finding a rejection right before you went to a romantic dinner. Ugh! That's the worst. I often find a rejection right when I'm going to do something and then it's stuck in my head the entire day. Kinda sucky for them to send it on Valentine's, btw.

Keep going, Renee! You're doing great. :)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I second Angela's comments. You are doing so many wonderful things!

I can be a perfectionist but I don't think that's my biggest writing challenge. I have a greater problem with having too many different projects/activities/pulls on my life.

Now towels? I want them folded just so, but give me a break. When you fold them alike, they stack better and fit on the shelf.

Nicole Pyles said...

I can relate to your post so much! I recently started reading more short stories that are getting published in a variety of lit mags and it's left me feeling the opposite of inspired. I worry that my stories aren't going to ever measure up to that. Then I read a quote a few weeks ago that talked about how with our own writing, we're so used to our own work, odds are we won't see our own potential. So I keep that in mind whenever I feel that looming imposter syndrome feeling.

Margo Dill said...

I have heard this problem from so many writers. My problem is fear of failure and always jumping on the next bandwagon instead of staying the course. But now that I know my issues, I am working on them instead of being self-defeating. You can do this, Renee! Look at everything you've already done, and spring is around the corner. So good for all of us!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--I third Angela's comment. I'm in a terrible rut too, but even though I'm AWOL (again), I would crawl out of the hot mess that's my life and buy ANYthing that ANY of the Butt-Kickers published.

So, get busy. I'll be one of your first customers...

Renee Roberson said...

Thanks so much for all this supportive feedback everyone!

Marcia--Sometimes I think I neglected self-care for a long time (especially when my kids were younger) so I have a tendency to feel guilty when I do it now. Sometimes I think I get inspired to do too many things at once, but I'm working on wrangling that in a bit.

Ang--What a dream analyst could do with these things that pop into my head at night! I will have to check out "From Where You Dream." You are right in that I could probably get so much raw material just from jotting down things when I first wake up! I also think we sometimes forget that creativity can be a messy process, but that's okay. It's not going to be perfect the first time, ever. Thank you for always being one of my biggest cheerleaders :-)

Sue--I have a similar issue in that I want to be Super Mom but also be a full-time writer and get credit for bringing in some money while also wanting to create all these fun projects that may not make money for years! I also have a hard time saying "no" to things that don't fire me up but I'm working on that!

Nicole--That makes so much sense. One thing I do see when I look at my writing is that it can seem mainstream or "commercial" compared to the things I read in lit journals, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, just different. Writing is very subjective and I admit I've read stories before where I think, "This is a solid story that covers all the bases, but it didn't WOW me." That's how editors feel about the things they turn down, and when there are themes involved it gets even trickier! You have made great progress with your work and need to keep looking for the markets that are good for you. Or create your own product like I mentioned above!

Margo--Yeah, I think once you figure out what your issues are, you must work on them. I'm still doing that. I also have a tendency to jump around all over the place, which is why NaNoWriMo works for me when I do it. When I have no deadlines, I can't be trusted! I'm trying to reverse engineer my way into a few things and need to give other people exact dates so they can hound me!

Sioux--My first customer. Yay! Just kidding. But seriously, thank you for always making sure I don't feel like a lunatic. I really hate this time of year and the way it makes me feel. And people who send me rejections instead of Valentines, LOL.

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