An Open Letter To Perfectionists

I spent far too much of my life searching for the elusive and impossible. That which had no flaws nor defects. After all, why should I accept that what I sought did not exist? The proclamation that perfection is impossible dried my mouth and set my stomach tingling.

Yet the truth stood before me every time I attempted to write. My light-headed attempts to swallow my way through a draft stayed the same. Type. Delete. Type. Delete. Type. Delete. Close the empty document. Sag back into the chair with a heavy sigh and tears burning the corner of my eyes. Another dead, blank page. I couldn’t find the perfect words.

Last October, I realized the only way out was through that spirit-crushing despair. What I did next set passion burning through my teeth and fingertips. I made a goal. Revolutionary, right? Maybe not, but for me, at that moment, it was. I chose a story. I set myself to finish the draft by November 30, 2020.

Shaking slightly, I opened a blank document. I picked up the craft book I bought years ago to assist my newest venture. The outline. I typed, deleted a little, then typed more. My fingers tingled. I grinned. My eyes sparkled. A new vibration made its way out from my spine to my skin. I would write a book, and I would do it during the worst challenge for both perfectionists and procrastinators.

National Novel Writing Month. Hereafter called NaNoWriMo, the challenge occurs every year. Millions of writers gathered online in the attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Ah, to write 50,000 perfect words! A story with flow and balance, poise, tone, and finesse. I needed that so badly I could feel it in my teeth. About 20,000 words through the draft, I re-read some of my words. My pulse quickened and my stomach did back-flips. It wasn’t just a flaw here and there. I faced a whole book full of flaws and defects.

I nearly gave up. After all, if I couldn’t write a perfect draft, what was the point of writing at all? I offered up ragged sobs to my computer and my God. That’s when a small voice reminded me of a quote from a craft book long ago. “All first drafts are crap.”

I persevered through more sob sessions. I sat down every day, and I typed those awful, dreadful words. On November 30, 2020, I finished the rough draft of my newest book at 52,000 words. I cried. I shook. I smiled wide enough to crack my face. I drank yet another serving of caffeine in celebration. Folks, that draft will never see another’s eyes. I’m the only one who will ever fully understand how awful it is. However, I finished it.

That driving desire for something without flaws or defects tried to cripple me. This time, I won. With that win, I came to a new understanding. My procrastination and my perfectionism walk in step with each other. I procrastinate because I am a perfectionist.

How many years have I wasted in anxiety’s dark, frenetic pit because I wanted to do something flawlessly? How much time have I spent searching for the anomaly of perfection when my standard was skewed? I still have high standards for myself. However, I now strive to make my work as free from flaws and defects as possible. I acknowledge flaws and defects will exist. However, that’s why there’s always the second draft.

I retired as a proficient perfectionist and procrastinator in November of 2020. Fellow perfectionists, I encourage you to retire as well. Free yourself from the chains of impossible standards. Am I saying settle? Yes and no. Settle for realistic, if high, standards. Understand the difference between “free of all flaws and defects” and “as free as possible from all flaws and defects”.

So to my fellow perfectionists, how has perfectionism caused issues in your life? Will you retire from this agony? Will you choose the realistic rather than the impossible? If you made it this far, I hope you’re willing to share your response in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.

1 thought on “An Open Letter To Perfectionists”

  1. Jennifer J Ulrich

    We are our harshest and most critical critics. We as human beings see our flaws and flaws we make that we just want to wash them away to only show our polished selves. To accept that we are not perfect and to accept the flaws we make and have in ourselves as raw beauty and that we are human and that mistakes are ok in their own way.

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