Poisonous Perfectionism


I’ve said it before and I’m sure to say it again: Perfectionism paralyzes. Perfectionism poisons. Perfectionism kills — not people (well, not literally), but creativity. While it’s important to set the bar high, to shoot for our ideal, we have to keep an eye on our nit-picky Inner Critic for whom nothing is good enough.

For those of you thinking, “I don’t have an Inner Critic,” think again. We all have some version of this purse-lipped, emaciated school teacher in our heads, arms folded, looking over her glasses at us and shaking her head in dismay. She may pick at our spelling and grammar if we write, or attack our other imperfect creations, like our drawing, knitting, or carving. She may have moved on to other things all together, like our physical appearance, how well we perform at work, or how our home looks. Whatever she focuses on, we are not living up to her standards. She tells us we’re not doing it as well those around us, and she’s there to remind us every time we fail.

The trick is not to let her crushing disappointment in our attempts to keep us from starting at all. Creativity requires a willingness to look stupid, to make mistakes, and even to fail. Not everything we do is going to work, and nothing we do will ever be perfect.

Perfection is something to reach for, but it is not a viable goal. We can use our perfect vision to inspire us to do our best, but it’s up to us to recognize when something is good enough and declare our work done. If we let our Inner Critic run the show, we’ll never finish. In fact, we’ll probably never even get started.

6 thoughts on “Poisonous Perfectionism”

  1. Great post! I know people who have been revising the same stories for 8 years or more. They always ask, “How do you know when you are finished?” My answer is, “When it tells the story I want to tell.” Yes, there will always be things that I could add or change, but at some point, you have to stop.

    1. My current novel is missing a section so it’s obvious it needs work. Like you, my goal is to tell my story my way. Looking forward to the day it’s done.

  2. I’m reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic at the moment and she has some really interesting things to say on this. In one example she published The Signature of All Things knowing that one of the characters was not well drawn, but decided to go ahead anyway, as to try to fix it would have meant unravelling all of the parts that did work.

    1. I just read Big Magic myself. Loved her stories about not treating writing as either perfect or unchangeable. So many new ideas in that book that I want to reread it soon.

      1. Yes I just finished it and think I will have to re-read it soon too – I’ve been recommending it to everyone I meet and wrote a fairly rambling blog post about it “A tap on the shoulder from the universe”

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