Ever sit to write but the words feel stifled? Or the inner critic roars its ugly head?
You’re not alone. I do too.
Every writer must develop their own technique to overcome the inner critic that whispers that you, your story, your words, somehow aren’t good enough.
Which is why I decided to ask one of the most delightful writers I know to share her secrets to overcoming perfectionism in writing.
When I read Shauna Niequist’s writing, I feel like I’m sitting with a best friend.
When I read Present Over Perfect, I laughed, cried, and felt awe. Shauna is a gift and I’m proud to call her my friend.
You’ll glean bountiful wisdom from her writing advice:
Years and years ago, someone gave me a piece of writing advice that I still use almost every day, more than a decade into my life as a professional writer. I don’t even know who told me this—I wish I did, because I would send them beautiful flowers or bourbon, my eternal thanks for a trick I’ve been employing near constantly.
And this is it: when you’re stuck, write a letter to someone who loves you.
Whatever you’re writing, pretend that it’s a letter to someone who generally has your back, who wants you to succeed, who thinks you’re great and gives you all the benefits of all the doubts.
Another way to say it: don’t get stuck and tangled and paralyzed imagining all the ways the internet will systematically dissect and destroy every sentence you string together.
The bad news is that they might indeed do that. But you’ll never ever get good writing done if you think too much about that part of it.
So I trick myself, and I write to someone who loves me, the same way you’d pour out your story over coffee to a friend who’s known you forever, fearlessly and without editing every word, without positioning and image-managing and defensive explaining.
Just say what it is you want to say, in the plainest terms, unvarnished and unapologetic.
That’s the first part, and the most important part. The rest matters, but isn’t general so tricky.
I rarely struggle to edit, or to reshuffle or reorganize what I’ve written. That’s just moving furniture, good-hard but not psychologically troublesome.
So the ballgame, so to speak, is getting that first draft down on the page or the screen, and what helps me tremendously is to write out of love, not fear or defensiveness.
Perfectionism is an offshoot of fear, one of its most insidious and well-disguised tentacles.
We think perfectionism is really just one tiny shade off from being a hard-worker, being attentive to detail, having high standards. And when we think of it that way, it seems like kind of a good thing, which is why so many of us have allowed it to terrorize us for so many years.
But it’s darker than that: it’s a futile attempt to control what can’t be controlled because we don’t trust that people will see us as good, talented, valuable, kind if we are not PERFECT.
Perfectionism is the dead opposite of trust—it’s frantically trying to cover all the bases, reply to every possible follow-up question, write air-tight arguments.
That’s a horrible way to write. That’s a horrible way to live.
And so my advice to you: begin with a blank page, and the face of someone who loves you.
There will be time enough for aggressive, incisive, radical editing—I love editing. It’s one of my favorite activities. But the only way for me to fill the blank page is to start with love, a barricade against perfectionism.
I’m grateful for Shauna, her commitment to always grow as a writer, and her exceptional writing tricks. For even more writing tips, sign up for our FREE 3-part mini course designed to help you start writing, sustain your writing, and share your writing.
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