Perfectionism Is Lying to You

Writers don't always recognize the grip of perfectionism when caught in its vise. But perfectionism is a wicked master that keeps us from achieving our true potential.

I should know. I struggle with perfectionism too.

Perfectionism is a Coping Mechanism

I learned to be a perfectionist as a way to keep myself safe. If I did something correctly (as evaluated by my family), I was praised and validated. If I did something incorrectly, I was critiqued. That critiquing resulted in a lot of shame for me. Shame that I wasn't good enough, that I wasn't measuring up. There was an implication I'd embarrassed my family with my error (even if it was something as simple as arranging crackers inartistically). If ever I objected to taking part in something aesthetic, I was told, "but you're so creative." So I would comply out of sense of obligation and guilt. And then when if or when my creativity didn't measure up, I would go deeper and deeper into hiding and shame. And yet at the same time, I loved (and love) being creative. Such a trap!

So many writers have similarly intricate sets of creative wounds, and perfectionism as a coping strategy is the result.

Perfectionism Endangers Excellence

Either do it perfectly, or don't do it at all.

Perfectionism tells us there's a right way and a wrong way to do things. To do anything. Perfectionism doesn't allow for mistakes or failure. But those so-called "failures" and "mistakes" are where the greatest breakthroughs and innovations happen. We've seen this through history, science, and technology. The path to success is rarely a straight line.

When we court perfection, we endanger our own brilliance, excellence, discovery, and evolution.

Perfectionism Lies to You

Interestingly, writers who are perfectionists will often self-describe as being "lazy."

Perfectionism says you aren't good enough, you aren't trying hard enough, and concludes that you must be lazy or you would be working harder. And in fact, when you procrastinate on taking creative action, you might even look lazy. But that is a lie. 

The real reason you are procrastinating is that you are afraid you will not be able to do your work perfectly, so it's safer not to do it at all.

You are not lazy, you are terrified.

These "lazy" writers are also often the same writers with intense fantasies of landing on bestseller lists and high achievement.

Perfectionism also lures you into daydreams of massive success. Awards, recognition, fame. But rather than being motivating, these visions are also paralyzing, because just as before, you are afraid you will not be able to achieve this high level of success, so it's safer not to try at all.

Perfectionism likes black and white extremes. In perfectionism's eyes, you're either a massive failure or a massive success.

Perfectionism is lying to you.

Write Because You Love It

What if you were just you? Being your excellent, awesome self? Showing up, doing your work, writing because you love it, because you're called to it, not out of fear of blowing it or the hope of making it big? 

Instead of striving for perfection, strive for excellence through action. Allow yourself to fall, and get back up, over and over again.

Keep writing.

You can watch me chatting about perfectionism and productivity with Deborah Hurwitz in my upcoming interview for her free Productivity for Perfectionist's Virtual Summit coming up April 4 to 23. Find out more and register here.*

 

* This is a referral link, which lets Deborah know I sent you. I won't receive a commission for your participation in this free event.

What you need to hear when you have writer’s block

naomidunfordNote from Jenna: This is a guest post from my friend, writer, and favorite business consultant, Naomi Dunford.

Naomi is an incredibly inspiring writer, and she also happens to be the only business consultant I ever recommend.

Her powerful piece had me in tears. I only wish I'd known what she was going through!

 

 

Write Like It Never Happened

There was a week in the summer of 2010 when I had two life-changing conversations. In both of these conversations, each had with different people, and for different reasons, and ostensibly on different topics, the people I was speaking with suggested that perhaps lil ol’ me would be more successful and make more money and be more awesome if I acted, well, more like them.

They didn’t say it like that, of course. People don’t. When well-meaning people want to give advice, they tend to simply paint a picture, and it’s only if you look at that picture from a certain angle that you realize they have painted a picture of themselves.

Up until that time, I was following the very specific content marketing strategy of write when you are possessed of the urge to say something and publish it soon after. That resulted in between four and five blog posts a week most weeks, and sometimes there would be a week or so in which I had nothing to say, during which I didn’t write anything.

The people I spoke with thought that I should be more strategic.

They thought I should write blog posts that were designed to link to other blog posts, or to products, or services. They thought I should custom create blog posts purpose built to give opportunities for search engine traffic, “link bait”, and virality on social media.

This is good advice, actually. It’s certainly the advice I give when people ask me how to be more strategic with their content marketing. It’s the advice I give when people come to me asking for help. It’s the advice I give when people are starting from nothing and want to create something “the right way” from the start.

Like I said, it’s good advice. It just wasn’t great advice for me.

See, I wasn’t looking to get more strategic with my blog posts. I wasn’t looking to “optimize” or “take it to the next level” or “play a bigger game”. I had always found blogging to be one of the most rewarding activities I could possibly imagine. It was fun, and it made me smarter, and it helped me think, and it helped me grow.

Doing it my way got me into the Technorati Top 1000, meaning that, for a time, this was among the 1000 highest traffic blogs on the internet. (That honor, in tandem with two crisp American dollar bills, will get you a tall Pike Place blend at Starbucks, but still. It was good to know that I was good at something.)

What was it Toby Keith said? “A sucker punch came flying in from somewhere in the back”?

These conversations came out of the blue. They came from colleagues I admire. They came while we were supposed to be talking about something else, something nice. And the shock of them, the surprise of them, the “yes, that little blog you have is nice and all, but perhaps you should be a tad, I don’t know, manlier? ” condescension of them, well, I folded. I figured these guys must be right. Anything I had attained must have been in spite of myself, and if I wanted to go anywhere in life, I’d better start acting like a grown-up.

Unsurprisingly, when I went to the keyboard, I didn’t know what to write. When the only dictate is “whatever you do, don’t act like yourself”, it’s tough to figure it out. And I stayed that way for four years.

In the meantime, I have written. I’ve written for work – the classes and the emails and the sales copy. Over two million words, actually. But nearly none of them have been mine, and nearly all of them have been a struggle.

Sure, sometimes I would catch a groove and forget to obsess. Sometimes I would be on a deadline and didn’t have time to dwell. Sometimes I would drink wine and get angry and write what I damn well felt like, mentally hating the two of them the whole time.

But most of the time, what I had once loved, I’d grown to hate.

Which brings us to this summer.

This summer, I had two more conversations, one with a student, and one with a colleague.

The student emailed me to ask if she could write a certain kind of content in her newsletter. In her PS she said she hoped I’d say it was okay, because “that kind of thing would be a blast to write.” And I wrote back and said, “Go ahead. If it would be a blast to write, it will be a blast to read.”

(Hmmm. Physician, heal thyself?)

And then I talked to a colleague. I said I didn’t know what to put on my blog, and I hadn’t for years. We talked for a long time. He asked questions. I explained the problem. He thought for a while, and then he likened the whole thing to cupcakes.

cupcake-atmHe said, “Remember that cupcake we got out of the ATM in Beverly Hills? Remember how it was perfect?”

“Even if it wasn’t perfect, I still would have liked it. If it had been a little less moist, or it had been carrot cake instead of red velvet, or if it had less icing or, hell, no icing. When someone presents you with a cupcake, and it’s even a little bit good, your answer is not ‘Gee, I wish it was different.’ Your answer is ‘Sweet! A cupcake!’ You’ll even take a brownie, or a cookie, or a brownie with icing, or a cookie with brownie-flavored icing. You don’t care. You’re just happy you got a cupcake.”

“Maybe it’s the same with your blog. Maybe you don’t have to be a certain way. Maybe you can just make cupcakes.”

And so I tried. I tried to write even though I’d had writers’ block for four years. I tried to write myself up some cupcakes.

It was awkward. It was wooden. It was tentative and hesitant and SO not the same as it used to be. It felt like touching a lover after a four-year dry spell full of nasty silences and not very casual disregard. But I did it. And here we are.

Between four years ago and now, other well-meaning people have tried to give me advice on how to beat my writers’ block. It’s become a bit of a joke in the classes I teach. People come onto our Q&A calls and ask how my book is going, and we all laugh.

The advice people give about writers’ block can generally be paraphrased – or quoted verbatim – as “just write”.

I would ask what I should write, and they would say just write. I would ask how to start, and they would say just write. I would say I don’t know how, and they would say just write.

They were correct, of course. That’s exactly what I should have done. But their advice never held, it never stuck, because, well, I don’t know why. I wanted it to work. I just needed more, I guess.

You don’t understand, I would think. I can’t, because I’m stupid.

You don’t understand, I would think. I can’t, because I’m weird.

You don’t understand, I would think. I can’t because I’m loud and I’m brash and I swear too much. I can’t because those big, strong men I admire and respect told me I was doing it wrong.

And I suppose what I would have wanted was for somebody to take me by the shoulders and say this:

“Write like it never happened.”

“Don’t let them get you. Don’t let them break you. Don’t let them take the vitality and the fire and the sparkle that is you and sanitize it into a beiged-down version.

"Don’t change just because it makes other people feel safer. Don’t let them tell you that you would be perfect if you just weren’t so… you. Don’t let them take you away from everybody else who likes you just the way you are.

"I know it will be hard, and I know it won’t be the same, and I know you’ll doubt your every word for a while, but it will get better.

"Do you remember when you were little, and you swore you would never let anyone break you down, no matter how hard they tried? That small person inside of you is counting on you to make all her dreams come true. That small person said that one day, she would write and people would read, and that mess of a childhood would be transformed into something better. Nobody can make it okay for that small person but you.

"Write like it was ten years ago and nobody had told you that you couldn’t do it. Write like it was possible. Write like you had hope, and write like you had dreams, and write like there are millions of people out there waiting to hear what only you can say.

"Write like you did before it ever occurred to you that there might be anyone who wanted you to be different.

"Outrun it. Outrun the feeling that they might be right. Outrun it, outwrite it, and drown it with voices of love and support and admiration and high fives.

"Listen to your children who believe you can do everything and that Mummy is the wisest, strongest, prettiest person in the whole world. Put your trust in the ones who know you and love you and never want you to change. Write and write and write and write and write, no matter what, write.

"It. Will. Get. Better.”

I think that’s what I would have wanted to hear.

So just in case that’s what you want to hear, and you need somebody to say that to you, I’ll say it to you now:

Write like it never happened.

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Naomi Dunford's first piece of published writing was a review of Coneheads for the local paper. She was 12. Her greatest writing related achievement is getting 104% on an essay about "The Fatal Flaw In King Lear", a play which she has heard is very moving. She writes Morning Pages about once a year.

She is a business consultant, writer, and blogger who started her company, IttyBiz, in 2006 and has been featured in numerous books you probably own but have not read. Read (not much) more here.

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Thanks for reading!

We always love to hear what you think in the comments.

Image © Shira gal aka miss pupik, "Writer's block". Imaged modified only by cropping.

The most important work you’ll ever do

Once you’ve gotten clear on your dream — the Big Thing you Believe Beyond Reason, or what you really, truly, deep down want to do — the most important work you’ll ever do is to get out of your own way so you can make that dream a reality.

Getting out of your own way looks like:

Cleaning up all the ways you stop yourself, all the negative things you tell yourself, all the fears that get in your way, all the stories, all the doubts, all the old creative wounds that hold you back, and doing something about them. This is the place for thorough examination, exploration, discovery, and recovery.

For instance:

  • Pay attention to where you are procrastinating and get to the bottom of it. Sometimes you don’t have enough information, sometimes fear is coming up, sometimes you haven’t hit the right thing yet, sometimes you really need some down time. Figure out what it is and resolve it for yourself so you can Do The Work.
  • Pay attention to the limits you put on your own dream — how are you limiting your own thinking about what is possible? How have you crimped your dream by being reasonable or realistic? (Again, I’m not saying that you don’t have to pay the bills, trust me, I do too, but I still let myself dream about what I really want because I know that’s the only way I’ll ever accomplish it.) This is often a way that we play it safe and hold back from pursuing what we really want.
  • Pay attention to the stories, fears and doubts running through your mind and get help to address them on a deep level so they don’t stop you anymore. This might look like coaching, energy work, therapy, training, talking with a friend, or journaling. The main thing is to look directly in the face of the fears, doubts, stories and old wounds to say, “Really? You sure about that?”

If you want to write, act, sing, paint — whatever your dream is — your most important job is to clear out anything and everything that might stop you from doing it so you can get on with doing the work you were put here to do.

Your Turn

I always love hearing from you in the comments on my blog.

 Jenna

 

Coming Attractions

~> November 10th. My next Life Purpose Breakthrough ‘Big Vision’ Group. Sold out. Details about future groups — yes, you might want to get on the waiting list.

~> November 28th. The next session of my Writer’s Circle starts. Sign up here.

 


~> Next Tuesday. Right Brain Business Planning with my buddy Kris Carey.

~> Ongoing. Writing for the ProSeries class at ScreenwritingU. This class is brilliant! I’m already thrilled with my results and we’ve really just gotten started.

~> FRIDAYS & now daily too. Sacred writing time. The Do Not Disturb sign is up.

Healing Your Past Creative Wounds

One of the things that can stop us from moving ahead with our creative work is our creative wounds. These are the painful experiences we've been through associated with our creative work that lead us to make decisions that it's not safe to be creative or take creative risks, and that ultimately we'll be hurt if we express ourselves creatively. These wounds show up in our lives looking like creative blocks, and we can even forget about them until we do a little deeper digging. I'm in the process right now of working with myself and my clients to clean up these old creative wounds, so that we can move forward more consciously.

So How Does One Heal a Creative Wound?

Here's a simplified version of the process I'm using with my clients, which is based on Isabel's powerful business transformation work.
  1. First, identify the story of the creative wound. What happened, factually? What happened, emotionally?
  2. Then identify the conclusion that you've drawn as a result of that experience. What have you decided to believe about being creative as a result of the experience?
  3. How can you reframe that limiting belief into a new way of looking your creativity that is both believable and supportive?
  4. Now do some release work on the story -- write a forgiveness letter and shred or flush it, do a shamanic fire ritual (a "green fire"), use ho'oponopono, or create another ritual to let go of the old story.
Simple as this work may sound, it can have quite an impact.  My clients are already reporting seeing new levels of inspiration and creative discovery as a result of our work. It's thrilling!

Your Turn

  • What creative wound are you ready to let go of?
  • How has it shown up in your life so far?
  • Are you ready to let it go?
I’d love to hear from you.   Jenna