Perfectionism is a sneaky, underhanded destroyer of creativity. A powerful energy suck.
Now, I can hear all you creative people out in Creative Land shouting: "I know all about the pitfalls of perfectionism! I've read the articles! I don't do that anymore. I'm perfect at not doing that anymore!"
Re-read my last exclamation. That's why I called perfectionism sneaky and underhanded. Even if we recognize how attempting to be perfect in any endeavor leads to frustration and failure, still we struggle. An example? I just rewrote the last sentence five times. In a first draft.
If you're an artist, do you find yourself starting a project over again before you finish? As a dancer do you find yourself practicing a step even after you know you're doing it "well enough" to move on? For a musician, do you get stuck on a piece?
And of course, for myself as an author, I rewrite and rewrite before I finish the draft.
Why? Why does this happen?
The simple answer: perfectionism sneaking in, that little monster.
For one simple reason: creative people want to be the best ever with their creations.
That's a good and powerful thing. That is to be commended. Celebrated. We work at our craft. We know we must try and try again to improve our craft.
Except. Except. Perfectionism rears its ugly, ugly head--as in, look, a cliche! In writers, it crawls in under the guise of the all-powerful editor. "That's an awkward sentence..," the editor whispers.
So, what to do?
One trick: recognize and gently, gently escort the critic out of your mind. Recognize that the impulse to perfectionism is only the impulse to improve--gone a little wild. Accept the gift of the impulse without giving in to it.
When you catch yourself in perfectionism mode, work to not beat yourself up about it. Instead see the steps above and exercises below.
1. Keep a list of what sets you off into perfectionism. Jot down when it happens. Are you tired? Are you trying to force the work? Is it a new work? An old one you haven't been able to finish? Don't try to change/fix/judge the list as in "I'll finish the old work or die trying!" Just observe.
2. When perfectionism is whispering or even shouting, answer it, gently, with reasons. "Yes, that is an awkward sentence. They happen. I'm not perfect." And then move on.
3. OR: shout at it, argue with it, be totally ridiculous with it. "I love my awkward sentences! They're perfect!"
3. If the perfectionism blocks you completely, it's okay to let it win, for that moment. Switch projects. Go play on another project. Take a total break and walk away.
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