The Struggle with Perfectionism

I’m certain many writers, if not all, have experienced perfectionism.

I recently tweaked my submissions fifteen times before I was somewhat satisfied, deleting and inserting words and re-structuring sentences, but deciding that it was done came only when exhaustion crept in. You know the feeling: you find yourself looking at the screen for so long that you don’t realise five hours have passed. You’re somehow too tired to move yet agitated enough to pace. You might even pray that the abyss you’re staring into sucks you in like a black hole.

However, sometimes wisdom comes along and tells you you’re not alone. I came across the article “How to Defeat Your Perfectionism in Writing” when scouting for advice. In short, it says you need to move on and accept that, while nothing will be perfect, you did your best. I’ve told myself that for as long as I can remember, but, of course, when someone else says it you start to believe it.

Things I’ve taken upon myself to help enforce that belief include new and existing things.

I now use deadlines after never doing so before, giving me a stronger confidence with stopping editing before it becomes excessive and taxing. I’ll take a break when things get intense, showering or napping, binging Netflix or sticking my head outside for fresh air. I try to recognise growth within my style or method or process, seeing it as evolving instead of changing or failing.

Most of all, I remember why I became a writer.

There’s no doubt perfectionism will always be lurking in the background, but it’s wrong if it thinks it will win every time.

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Rejection, Rejection, and More Rejection

In December 2016, I started submitting short stories to magazines. A year later, I’ve had about thirty rejections and two acceptances, published by Flash Fiction Magazine and Body Parts MagazineYou’d think that after a couple of publications – or even many more than that – receiving acceptances would build up and submitting in general would become easier.

Oh, how wrong I was to think that.

While not all my submissions (there were many more stories that were rejected and then abandoned), these are the current ones, two awaiting responses, along with a third that I’m trying to search for a magazine to submit. Nowadays, I expect rejections. In the past, it would’ve crushed what remained of my battered spirits, but what I’ve seen from other authors and writers is that rejection is part of the process.

It might seem devastating when receiving that apology letter, but it can be seen as a good thing. You take a step back to see what to do next time, how to improve, gearing yourself up for the next round of writing. My first ever submission was about a mysterious door that led to dangerous and dark things, and I assumed the editors were wrong when they rejected it, but comparing it to my current stories (while some aren’t quite fitting to some magazines) I had much to work on. My writing has grown over that time, experimenting with different ideas, showing that trying new things could be the path to take.

Some people might see that as a way to change their genre or ideas, which if you want to do that, that’s great, but write you. Use your voice. There will always be people out there who want to read it. And even though it might take weeks, months, even a year before we’re published again, each rejection is a stepping stone towards an acceptance.

If you’re looking for places to submit, some resources to aid you include:

The Guilt of a Burnout

Exactly what it says on the tin: the inevitable emotion of guilt when facing a burnout.

Ridiculous, yes? You’ve been writing a story, absorbed by excitement and curiosity, until come a while down the line you’re stopped by the burnout. Boredom and exhaustion replaces the positivity, and yet despite the knowledge that it isn’t your fault, part of you still feels guilty for allowing it to happen.

My burnout has lasted a week. I’d decided to attempt a novelette – a way to build myself up to a novel one day, what with writing short stories only for the better part of a year – and had a solid idea. At first, with any new shiny thing, you can’t stop thinking or writing about it, but then it creeps its way in, taking you by surprise because you thought there’d be no way, with your enthusiasm, it would happen again. But it does. And yet again all the shit washes over you. You’re frustrated, restless, unable to write a single sentence without hating it (if you can write one at all), distracted by stress so even when you try to relax you can’t. You wonder if you’ll ever make it out. You did before, but maybe not this time.

What do you do? Do you bite the bullet and carry on, even though each word you type is almost painful? Do you take a break, even though sometimes it doesn’t always work, returning to the dreaded document with less motivation than before? I attempted both, and of course it hasn’t helped since I’m writing this blog post. But, ironically – if it is ironic, I’m hazy on the definition still – writing this blog post has helped. Not entirely. I’m still not keen on returning to my novelette, or any writing for that matter, but at least by writing something different offers some refreshment.

I’m yet to figure out what to do. Perhaps I will take a week off, considering it is my birthday on Saturday and I have worked hard (in my opinion; to others it is probably nothing in comparison) in the sense that I’ve written most days. It is usually peanuts of writing, 350 – 400 words, but it’s still difficult since I’m a slow writer and an over-thinker. Snuffing out that anxiety takes all the more work and effort. Perhaps I’ll push myself to write, telling myself I’ve all the time in the world to fix, and re-write, and edit, until I get the story where I want it to be. Perhaps I’ll spend more time on blogging and reading as the last time I did that for more than a few minutes seems years ago.

What I will to, without doubt, is remind myself of these 3 little things:

1. Don’t beat yourself up.

It sounds contradicted; after all, the title of this post is about guilt, but there are some days – whilst rare in volume – where I tell myself it is okay. You wrote 50 words today? Great. You didn’t write? Fine. Your first draft is utter bollocks? Sure is. Be rewarding, be complimentary. You wrote 50 words but that’s still 50 more to your word count. You didn’t write but you figured out that plot point or gave that character a distinctive feature. Your first draft is utter bollocks but you’ve got time to work it out.

2. Take a well-deserved break.

Even if it means going for a walk, or reading a few pages of your book, or watching a few episodes of that show you’ve wanted to catch-up on. It doesn’t matter how you do it because it’s your break.

3. Don’t compare yourself to others.

Something I’m still guilty of, but not as much as I used to. I can’t remember a time where I didn’t want to be like all the other #1 authors. But where would it get me? Wishing hard enough that it’ll pop a blood vessel but not make it actually come true, that’s where. You’re you. You’re not somebody else.

One day there will be a time where I’ve mastered the things above, but then again that day might never come. I’ll always face challenges in writing – we all will – but hopefully we will have the careers and lives we wished for, and will remember that although we went through all this trouble to get there, we still got there in the end.