Perfectionism, a Beginner’s Plight
by Tracie Miles
In high school I enrolled in many art classes, and as a natural procrastinator, I was often behind on projects. One day, in an effort to catch up, I hastily swiped 20 strokes of charcoal across a piece of paper, signed my name and ran to the front of the classroom to turn in my work. My teacher, who had known me for a couple years, looked at me, smirked and simply said, “No.” We both laughed and acknowledged that this was 20 strokes of zero effort.
Once I started college, though, I began to understand the connection between procrastination and perfectionism. My dad, seeing my dilemma one day, mentioned that children who struggle with procrastination may have grown up with parents who were perfectionists. He joked, saying that, while I couldn’t blame all my troubles on my parents, part of my procrastination was likely from being raised by parents who strived for perfection. He therefore encouraged me by saying that sometimes a finished project is better than a wishfully perfect, unfinished project.
In a similar vein, this is what I’ve come to understand the writing process to be like — it is some undefined place between zero effort and waiting too long for perfection. It’s genuine effort without fear.
One year ago, I joined COMPEL Training and was given the opportunity to enter a contest to publish a devotional article with Proverbs 31 Ministries.
I worked on the article for many weeks, wrote, rewrote, tweaked, chewed my fingernails and wrote down one word after another. My friend edited my work, and then I cut and chopped and honed my thoughts until I felt like my words matched what my heart wanted to say.
The fear of rejection, and my desire to write the perfect article, made me want to nitpick the devotional, but as I neared the deadline, I began to realize that I didn’t need to aim for the same tailored abilities as the great writers — after all, I was a beginner! Instead, I simply needed to use all the tools and skills I had learned up to that point and write the best article I knew how to write. When my friend edited my article one last time, she asked how much feedback I wanted. I said, “Please just look for spelling errors this time. I know it could be better, but for now, this is my best.” It was then that I realized two things: 1.) all great writers have to start somewhere and 2.) good writing grows somewhere between zero effort and fearful perfectionism.
At some point a writer must simply write. They must sit down and put pen to paper, or fingers to a keyboard, and push out one word after another. This endeavor can be daunting, but what has encouraged me to press ahead is accepting that my best is allowed to be less than perfect.
The article I submitted for Proverbs 31 Ministries was my heart — it took effort, and it wasn’t perfect, but it was my best, and it was published!
If you are a new writer (like myself), then I would like to encourage you to put in effort — learn your craft well, take writing courses, have a friend proofread your projects — but don’t let the weight of perfectionism paralyze you. Do your best, and then simply write in the freedom of knowing that all skills have learning curves, especially at the beginning.
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