It’s the dead of night. Wind howls its eerie song, thunder pierces the sky, and rain drops tap dance upon the roof. What once was a bright, roaring fire is nothing more than a few red coals. What’s left dimly lights the colonial style living room. A crystal glass lies on its side on the table; whiskey dribbles onto the hardwood floor, glistening ever so slightly from the fireplace. Mascara stained tears slowly roll over her cheeks–her gaze is focused on what lies within her mind. A heavy pit sits in her stomach as a picture frame lies on her lap, the glass shattered and bloody. The rain finally stops, and her empty gaze shifts back to the present situation. Her face is heavy with exhaustion. She gives a brief, uninterested glance at the mixture of blood, glass, and whiskey. A disheartened sigh escapes her mouth. The grandfather clock chimes twice, and silence follows.
You’d think that if you’re a writer with a perfectionist streak you’d have the best, well-thought-out pieces, right? No problems, no road blocks, no grammar issues, nothing.
That’s rarely the case.
Being a perfectionist is a hindrance to writing, a lot of times. NOT a perk.
Back in middle school and high school, I always excelled in language arts. I received good grades on my papers. I liked writing, and I was good at it. But, we were urged to follow steps.
- First draft
- 2nd draft
- Edit and peer review
- Final draft
For me, I made it a habit to stop after step 3. I’d get all my research done, make a rough outline, then fill in the blanks. I wasn’t like some students where they’d type out word vomit, whatever came to their mind first, with the intention of fixing it all later. No. I’d sit at my computer, look over my outline, and think over all the possible ways I could write something before getting anything down on paper. When I finally decided, “This is it! THIS is how I want to say X,” it would get typed out. Then, rinse and repeat for the rest of the paper. After it was all said and done, I’d read over my paper and think, “Ya know, this isn’t half bad for my first draft!” So, I’d turn it in and make the smallest, most insignificant changes for future drafts, because nothing really needed “fixed.” My final draft was essentially my first draft, with maybe a couple things switched around. And it worked. I don’t think I ever got below a B on a paper in high school. I used this for creative writings too, not just research papers. Mental first draft, hard copy and “perfect” final draft.
Fast forward a few years to when I want to start writing a book. Mind you, it’s 2018, and I’ve had a couple book ideas since 2014. However, things have barely gotten out of the planning stages. Why? Because I’m a perfectionist, and my previous methods do NOT work in this realm. I can’t just think up the entire plot and dialogue for 300+ pages and write it all down straight from my head. Hell, I can’t even think up 3 pages ahead of time in “perfect” detail. Books aren’t concrete like research papers–they’re fluid. Each page builds on the last, and you’ll never know what page 10 is going to be until you’ve finished page 8 or 9. Sure, you can have a rough idea, but once the words hit the page, things can (and will more than likely) change. Sounds easy enough. Just write it piece by piece, what’s so hard about that? Well, if you have the privilege of being a PROCRASTINATING perfectionist like me, everything. Everything is hard about that.
The way my mind works is this: if I don’t think I can do something perfectly the first time around, I don’t want to do it at all. I’ll keep putting it off and putting it off until before I know it, weeks, months, and even a couple years pass by. Remember how I said I’ve had a couple book ideas since 2014? What happened? Procrastinating perfectionism happened.
I’ve built up bad habits. I’ve conditioned my brain into thinking I can’t write unless things are “perfect” (I’ve been quoting perfect, because there’s no such thing as perfect. There’s always room for improvement, as my old band director used to say). So, nothing gets written. Absolutely nothing. And it’s not even as simple as, “Oh, it’s not going to be perfect. Guess I’ll just put it off til the right idea comes to mind.” There is physical anxiety that comes with all of this. I become afraid and get a pit in my stomach at the thought of getting something “wrong.” That’s not an easy feeling to overcome. Being a perfectionist tends to be glamorized, especially online on sites like Tumblr (looking at you, studyblr/studyspo communities). But for a lot of people, it’s a form of anxiety that can be debilitating. So, how do you overcome the writer’s block that inevitably comes with perfectionism?
You write. You just have to fucking write. There’s going to be a LOT of self-talk that comes with it. You have to re-wire your brain, and the only way to do that is to accept that your first draft is going to be shit and WRITE. No, it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to cause stress, and you’re going to want to fight it. But you have to keep pushing yourself without backing down until it finally happens. Once you finally get some words down on the page, you may hate it. But you’ll get a feeling of satisfaction that you actually wrote something, for once. Or, you may get lucky and be able to say, “You know what? This isn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be,” and not have to re-write that part 8 times. No matter what outcome you get, you wrote, and that’s big.
There’s this quote I found online a few years ago that I absolutely love:
“For a star to be born, there is one thing that must happen: a gaseous nebula must collapse.
This is not your destruction.
This is your birth.” -Zoey Skylar
Something lives inside of her… A fiery longing for something more. A soul and body can only take so much heat. It grows and grows as she tries to conceal it, but it’s hard to tame the flames. The walls come crumbling down as ash clouds the air. All seems lost forever in this one person graveyard.
But there’s a stirring within. Amidst the burning coals, flames shoot high as she rises like a phoenix. Nothing is ever broken–only transformed.
The sky was dark with clouds overhead–the moon and stars nowhere to be found. A single candle sat in front of her as she gazed into the flame. Her mind emptied completely. Suddenly, wind tore through the air. The leaves of nearby trees rustled furiously; branches swayed back and forth. Her hair danced angrily around her pale face, ignoring the uproar around her. The grass tickled her skin, though she felt numb. Nothing could break her focus as she lost herself in the fire. The flame flickered aggressively. The wind grew faster. All of a sudden, the candle’s light went out at the blink of an eye. Darkness surrounded her. Life finally snapped back into her eyes as she peered around. She was alone. Anxiety began to swell—panic set in. She clawed at the ground trying to grab anything she could to remind herself that she was still there as her mind took her elsewhere. Just as she was about to crumble, she looked up. The clouds began to dissipate. Slowly, the stars twinkled one by one. The moon, full and large, peeked out. Her body calmed as a sense of hope washed over her. The calm after the storm fueled her. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw something—the flame danced once again.