If it isn’t perfect, it isn’t it.
You’re halfway through writing your story when you discover a problem, and immediately you lose the thrill. Like a balloon pumped with pride facing a rude deflation. And like you did two years ago, two months ago, and two weeks ago, you abandoned your story. You’re reminded of your favourite author’s work you’ve recently read, and the feeling of inadequacy sets in.
I get it.
I’ve abandoned two stories and a film project because I thought they weren’t the best. When I think of perfect books, Colleen Hoover’s It Ends With Us comes to mind first. And when I think of perfect movies, Yoo Hyun Mi’s Bridal Mask does. I want to write stories that are intense, gut-wrenching in the best way, and remind us of reality – ‘Phew! That was one deep step back into reality’ – I want that. And of course, while passing messages in well-crafted plots.
So yes, we all feel inadequate as writers (even your perfect role models); we have those days when we feel our stories won’t work because we haven’t done a good job. But the reality is that we’ve done a good job, but it’s not the best we can do. It’s important to understand this to keep our momentum.
There’s no progress without steps in the right direction, and this includes writing the cringey stuff. It’s part of the process to get the bad words out. Before I dive right into the root cause and ways to break free, how do you even know you’re under this curse?
All our ideas and stories aren’t set in stone to work, but if you find yourself setting aside your projects all the time, there’s a problem. Know when to give up and when to keep going; you can’t do this if you don’t try to solve the problem. Why is your story not working? What do you need to work on?
You can’t seem to write when you want to because you doubt your capabilities. Gradually, you become unproductive and lose your inspiration for that project. But you’d never know if that was your big breakthrough.
When you never see anything positive about your stories, it’s a sign. Every project is an opportunity to learn and do better than the last. And learning is done with utmost positivity.
Now, let’s expose some of the root attractions of the perfectionist curse.
The curse of perfectionism doesn’t cast itself upon us suddenly; it takes a whole process of dedication and due diligence to attract it.
What story do you want to tell? There are a million stories out there, and you want to stand a chance at being heard. What do you want someone to see differently? Explore your beliefs and perspective, settle on your big idea, do your research, and put in the work. Without a clear purpose, you’ll be bound by self-doubt.
You only have yourself to compete with. Are you subconsciously competing with your fellow writer? Get conscious right now and hop out of that competition. This is the time to build healthy relationships and thrive together. Join a community of writers or arm yourself with a trusted accountability partner, with whom you brainstorm ideas and find additional motivation.
You want a masterpiece right away, and when it’s not going as planned, you give up—“if it’s not perfect, it’s not it.” You have to understand that a masterpiece comes with the extraordinary, and you’ve got to do the ordinary first while exploring ways to make it better than the last—striving for excellence.
Do you find yourself constantly thinking about the audience’s perception of your story? ‘What if they don’t like it?’ Well, are you writing for them or for yourself? You have to realise that everyone isn’t your audience, and your story won’t appeal to everyone. Let this be a luminous wake-up call to be afraid.
Let right now be the start of a journey to the change you desire.
Now, what works for breaking the curse?
Foremost, you need a mindset shift. When I started writing with this mindset—excellence, not perfection—I got better at fixing my creative problems. You can find your own mindset shift and mantra—anything to be progressive in your journey.
Next, you want to do the opposite of the root attractions I stated above.
In addition, here are some spells to break the curse:
You have your story to tell; don’t try to tell another’s. You’d never know your potential if you don’t start. If you’re stuck on getting fresh ideas, my previous article, ‘Ideation Technique: Your Journey To Creating Yards Of Ideas As A Writer,’ can jumpstart your creative engines.
“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” Louis L’Amour.
So what if your story isn’t entirely original? Keep going. It hasn’t been told by you, in your style, voice, or perspective.
Like Sia sang, ‘And another one bites the dust… But you won’t see me fall apart. I’ve got an elastic heart,’ you have to be ready to accept your creative status and progress. This process can be overwhelming, especially when your story won’t work. Did you get negative reviews or criticism? Learn from your mistakes, and let them steer you to do better.
We’re our own first critics because it paves a path to excellence. However, it may not be the case for you if you’re under the curse of perfectionism because you’ve blocked that path before you even thought of it. At this point, it’s advisable to seek a good third eye immediately and discuss your idea. The feedback will help your journey.
While you’re tempted to delete that file, remember that it’s part of your journey, and an occasional comparison between past and present works will not only motivate you but also measure your growth and help you discover what worked. You don’t learn only from the good; the bad is also part of your learning process.
You’re learning, so you become independent in your thoughts. Sometimes, you have the answers, but self-doubt clouds your thoughts, and you find yourself dashing off for the answers in the works of your favourite authors. And you wonder why the texts seem to scream, ‘no way you’re ever getting here,’ rather than motivate you.
You see, you can’t ever stop learning, but give yourself the chance to seek answers from within. Test your knowledge and creativity. There’s something you can do differently: explore the chances.
Humans are deeply flawed. And perfection is a dangerous illusion. When you keep waiting for the perfect story, you’re diligently taking steps in the opposite direction of happiness and fulfilment.
Be reminded that you may have the knowledge and the dream, but if you stay unproductive, your dream will never come true. Why? Because you’re not a fertile ground for your dreams to thrive.
The curse of perfectionism is usually lurking around the corner, ready to sap your thrill, and we, in all our vulnerable selves, have the tendency to attract it. However, the knowledge provided in this article will help you avoid it accordingly.