Is Perfectionism Killing Your Success?

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Last time I wrote about stress and how it can kill creativity. Many “normal” people (code for “non writers”) see our job as play, as fun. They really don’t grasp what goes into creating the stories they all enjoy and that it is a lot of work. Also, because our field is so subjective, writers must endure an onslaught of “enemies” no one else can see because often they are in our head. Sometimes, in our effort to produce the best work we can, we invite in a very dangerous enemy.

Meet….Perfect.

All of us want to do a good job. We want to put our best foot forward. We all say that we want feedback and critique, but deep down, if we are real honest, we want people to love everything we say and do. Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality. We can’t please everyone, and it is easy to fall into a people-pleasing trap that will steal our passion, our art, and our very identity.

I’ve seen this happen time and time again with writers. They rework and rework and rework the first chapter of their novel, trying to make it “perfect”—which is actually code for “making everyone happy.” Here is the thing. Not gonna happen. Ever. Oh and trust me, I am giving this lecture to myself as much as anyone.

One person will say our book is too wordy. Another wants more description. We add more description and then another person is slashing through, slaughtering every adjective and metaphor.

Lessons from Aesop

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I find it interesting that some of my favorite childhood stories were about character issues that I’ve struggled with my entire life. My favorite story Old Man Whickett’s Donkey and was loosely based off one of Aesop’s fables, The Man, The Boy and The Donkey. The story in a nutshell is this.

An old man and his grandson head to market with their donkey carrying bags of grain for sale. A passerby says, “What a fool. Why buy a donkey if you aren’t going to ride him?” In response to the critic, Old Man Whickett and the boy load up and ride the donkey into the next town where another passerby says, “You cruel lazy people. That poor donkey carrying all that weight. You should be ashamed.” So Old Man Whickett and the boy dismount and carry the bags of grain and the donkey (which seriously freaked out the donkey).

Anyway—and I am probably butchering this story, but give me a break, I’ve slept since I was five—Old Man Whickett and the boy keep trying to please everyone who passes and what happens?

The bags of grain burst open and spill all over the road from being moved around so much (and in Aesop’s version the donkey falls in the river and drowns). They never make it to market and all of them are exhausted and half-dead from trying to please everyone.

Moral of the tale?

Try to please everyone and we please no one.

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The Fine Line of Fools

We have to walk what I will call the Fine Line of Fools. There are two different types of fools. There are fools who plunge ahead and don’t ask for any feedback and ignore anyone who tries to warn there might be a problem. But then there is the other type of fool who can never seem to make up her mind. She keeps changing direction every time someone has an opinion (been there, done that).

All of us are in danger of being one kind of fool or another. While the wise writer is open to critique, she also needs to know when to stand her ground. If she doesn’t learn to stand firm, that’s when the donkey hitches a ride.

I would love to tell you guys I’ve never been either of those fools, but I don’t dig getting struck with lightning.

Perfectionism and People-Pleasing Mask Fear

I have learned through a lot of trial, error and stupidity that perfectionism and people-pleasing really are just an extension of fear. If we get everyone’s opinion about our book, web site, blog, color of fingernail polish, if someone else doesn’t like it, then we don’t have to own it.

“Well, that wasn’t my idea. That was Such and Such’s idea.”

We Can’t Please EVERYONE

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Over the weekend I took a short family trip to get away and reset my head after the trauma of last month. I love mysteries and detective novels so I hastily just downloaded a book Audible recommended to me based on other books I’d enjoyed. I had never head of the author but there were 14K reviews and overall 4 stars.

So I started listening and the story was just moving at a snail’s pace. In my opinion it was wordy and pretentious and gave me no good sense of place. I kept listening for three hours until I just could’t give any more time to the book. When I looked the book up again, I realized that the author was actually the legend J.K. Rowling writing under a pen name.

I thought that it had to be me. I was just being picky. Maybe I hadn’t turned off my editor’s brain. But when I glanced at the one and two-star reviews, the commenters were saying the same things I was feeling about the story.

But isn’t that just more than a little amazing?

Not that poor J.K. had to endure one-star reviews, but that she isn’t…wait for it….wait for it…she isn’t perfect. Even the famed J.K. Rowling can’t write a book that pleases everyone. Many other readers (far more actually) enjoyed the book. So good for her! She still did her job and did it well.

***As a quick side note this is one of the many, many reasons I never leave a review unless I can give it four stars. There is a person on the other side of that review and for all I know it really could just be me. Maybe Mercury is in retrograde, my underwear is too tight, or I needed to try this book after a vacation.

Learn to Drop the Donkey

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In this new publishing world, all of us need to learn to be leaders and leaders own everything, the good and the bad. That is no easy task, and I have to admit there are times my neck starts hurting and I get this lower back pain and then I realize…I’M CARRYING THE FREAKING DONKEY! DROP THE DONKEY, YOU IDIOT!

We have to be aware that there are jerks and there are also people mean well. Humans offer constructive criticism to show love, even if there is nothing wrong. I’ve seen perfect works of fiction get eviscerated by well-meaning “helpful” critique groups.

This is why it is critical to really understand the rules of writing, why it is essential to really know what our book is about, and to learn to be confident in our brand. This way, when well-meaning folk offer us poles and twine to tie up the donkey on a sledge, we can say, “No, thanks. I think my donkey can walk.”

This is one of the many reasons I love for authors to have a blog. It really does help us develop rhino skin and trains us to publish even when the writing isn’t worthy of a Pulitzer. One mantra I have when I find I am afraid to move forward is:

Perfect is the enemy of the good.

So are you carrying the donkey? Do you find him difficult to drop? Do you fall into the trap of carrying your donkey? I know I am a notorious donkey-toter, but getting better every day. What tools, suggestion or advice would you offer to other who struggle with their respective donkeys? What are warning signs that you are carrying a donkey?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of AUGUST, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

rattheearnestpainter is JULY’s WINNER! Please send me your 5000 word WORD document, double spaced and in 12 point Times New Roman to kristen at wana intl dot com! Congratulations! You can also choose to send a one-page query letter (250 words) or three-page synopsis (750 words) instead.

Check out the other NEW classes below! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

Blogging for Authors  (August 26th) will teach you all you need to know to start an author blog good for going the distance. Additionally I would also recommend the class offered earlier that same week (August 22nd) Branding for Authors to help you with the BIG picture. These classes will benefit you greatly because most blogs will fail because writers waste a lot of time with stuff that won’t work and never will and that wastes a lot of time.

I am here to help with that😉 .

We are doing ANOTHER round of Battle of the First Pages!!! August 5th THIS FRIDAY!

The first time we did this we had some tech issues doing this new format and we’ve since worked those out, but for now I am still keeping the price low ($25) until we get this streamlined to my tastes.

LIMITED SEATS. This is an open workshop where each person will submit his or her first page of the manuscript for critique. I will read the page aloud and “gong” where I would have stopped reading and explain why. This is an interactive workshop designed to see what works or what doesn’t. Are you ready to test your page in the fire?

Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages August 12th

The first five pages are the most essential part of the novel, your single most powerful selling tool. It’s how you will hook agents, editors and readers. This class will cover the most common blunders and also teach you how to hook hard and hook early. This class is 90 minutes long, 60 minutes of instruction and 30 minutes for Q&A.

Your First Five Pages Gold Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique your first five pages.

Your First Five Pages Platinum Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique of your first twenty pages.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 2nd

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

 

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  1. #1 by nljmonsegue on August 2, 2016 - 8:00 am

    Reblogged this on Thinking… Thought.

  2. #2 by chellypike on August 2, 2016 - 8:34 am

    Great advice. I don’t have people-pleaser syndrome but I bounce from loving my writing to hating every word on the page.

  3. #3 by DM Watson on August 2, 2016 - 8:44 am

    Reblogged this on My Passion's Pen and commented:
    I checked my email just before heading into a writing session, and boy is this message right on time!

    Put the donkey down! I need to be good, not perfect.

  4. #4 by brendaattheranch on August 2, 2016 - 8:45 am

    Perfectionism is a big issue for me, but I don’t view it as a problem of trying to please others. Rather, it’s trying to please myself. In either case, however, perfectionism will kill you if you don’t control it (and I don’t claim to have learned to control it.).

    Perfect example: I have a novel (historical fiction) whose first chapter won the historical category in a writers contest back in 2010. I was asked at the time to submit it to the editor of a publishing house, which I did. They rejected it but I wasn’t surprised, because it didn’t have the key element that house was looking for–romance. I was good with that, cuz writing romance was never my intention. I have since ceased to chase traditional publishing and prefer instead to self-publish when I get my first few books completed.

    I put that winning manuscript away for a few years and took it back out and had a couple people read it for me, because I still wasn’t satisfied with it when I read it over. They pinpointed some character issues and I concurred.

    But I still haven’t been able to re-write it to my satisfaction. I don’t know what the answer to perfectionism IS, but I can tell you what it ISN’T. It ISN’T doing it the way I have done. LOL!

    I also get bogged in perfection always thinking I haven’t researched enough. That’s a biggie for me. I always want to know more. And more.

    But at some point I’ve got to shut up, settle, put the books out there, and let the chips fall where they may, as Charley Pride used to sing. Otherwise, perfection is a self-made prison.

  5. #5 by Lori Ono on August 2, 2016 - 8:46 am

    Timing is such an interesting thing. I was just thinking about this.

    i actually think about this quite often. I often find my inner dialogue is, “I’m not ready yet.” I can see a list of things that I need to do first, but I’ve had a lot of instances where I’ve missed out because I thought i wasn’t ready.

    Just saw some FB meme where Richard Branson is quoted, “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!” and found it on his website. https://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/my-top-10-quotes-on-opportunity

    Glad to see he actually said that not one of those posts that ascribe something awesome to someone but that person never actually said that.

    I like his suggestion but it really wars with that feeling of I need to be qualified. I’m not ready yet. But I don:t like to get in over my head. I’ve been there, done that and stressed over it. Wasn’t worth it. But at the same time, it was an opportunity but it wasn’t one of my dreams. Maybe that is the difference.

    • #6 by brendaattheranch on August 2, 2016 - 2:30 pm

      Lori,

      RE: The say yes and figure it out later thing, I’m generalizing but I see the essence of that stated over and over when I read books/articles on developing your own business. Like you, I’m always telling myself “I need qualifications first” but then I realize I can’t live by this any more. It even matters in job interviewing. Unless you’re superman or superwoman, you can’t have used every computer program out there, yet employers want you to have experience with their specific software. But I also know that just because someone went to school for years to attain their title, it doesn’t mean they’re good at what they do.

      We need to be credible in whatever we do, but more and more I’m realizing what a disservice I’m doing to myself by disqualifying myself as insufficiently prepared before I even try.

  6. #7 by Karen Dent on August 2, 2016 - 8:57 am

    Too true. My novel has been finished for a year and a half- and I’m still working on the edits. “Perfect” is killing me. Finally took a breath and sent it out. Thanks for your advice- always dead on. I

    • #8 by Lori Ono on August 2, 2016 - 7:16 pm

      Best of luck!

  7. #9 by Lisa Orchard on August 2, 2016 - 9:08 am

    Great post, Kristen!

  8. #10 by Cathy F. on August 2, 2016 - 9:09 am

    “While the wise writer is open to critique, she also needs to know when to stand her ground. If she doesn’t learn to stand firm, that’s when the donkey hitches a ride.”

    We need to learn to be a little Florence King: “Stet, Damnit!”

    https://www.amazon.com/STET-Damnit-Misanthropes-Corner-1991/dp/0962784168/

    But, yeah… though I’ve seen a lot more completely unpublished newbie writers convinced they’re better than best-selling authors, so it’s a fine line. Maybe they will be better than a writer who cranks out 3 books a year, but the rubber hasn’t actually met the road yet, in terms of seeing if they can hold an audience, has it? (And I say this as someone whose rubber has not met the road… and now that metaphor sounds hella-dirty. *blush*)

    I think it’s about investigating what’s causing the resistance to a critique. If I’m feeling like I need a pat on the head and “you like me! you really like me!” then I guess it’s on me to address my emotions. If I’m feeling *hurt* by a critique, or giving off a vibe of resistance to it, then I ought to be looking inward to see what’s going on with me, rather than outward to deduce why that other person is being “mean.”

    If the critique is coming from a place that objectively makes sense, and I’d be saying the same thing to another writer if the story was written by them, then it’s probably a good idea to hear the intent, even if it’s delivered in a less-than-pleasing manner.

    And yes, sometimes, we’ll disagree. But it’s up to me to decide first if I’m disagreeing based on an emotional attachment to that line, or that arc in the story (sometimes things really actually don’t work). Or if I’m disagreeing because that point is actually objectively purposeful, maybe serving something later, and will pay off… in which case, a rewrite may or may not be in order. Or it might objectively be something that is fine and just one of those things that the other person kind of doesn’t like.

    I guess the hard part is learning which is which. But generally speaking, if my emotions get tweaked, that’s the first thing I have to understand – otherwise they’ll just yammer on and on, keeping me from actually working on the story. Emotions tend to get in the way of a good, solid, necessary editing process. They’re awesome for getting the story written… can’t do it without attachment… but emotions are sucky editors.

    Maybe it’s really all about learning healthy boundaries, in general. Just because I have boundaries doesn’t mean I have to guard them relentlessly all the time.

  9. #11 by nicolegrabner on August 2, 2016 - 9:28 am

    For me, I think not having a clear voice is what’s killing my writing. I’m struggling with having a clear theme to what I write and who I am – this, added to my donkey and all his relatives, is what’s weighing me down. I’ve had some small successes, but it hasn’t given me a clear direction and where I thought I would succeed – and haven’t, has made me begin to doubt myself as a writer.

    I’m thinking Kristen’s Blogging class is a good option for me, but I’m curious is anyone else struggles like I do with finding one clear voice for your writing?

    • #12 by Rachel McKee on August 2, 2016 - 10:24 am

      Hi Nicole, I’m currently writing a novel, and I struggle every day with maintaining a strong voice for my characters (my story has two perspectives). Every time I struggle with voice I ask myself what does my chapter WANT in this scene. What are they trying to achieve, example: win an argument, impress a girl, impress peers, to hide bc they are shy, etc. Anyway that helps me.☺

  10. #14 by Yecheilyah on August 2, 2016 - 9:28 am

    Reblogged this on Pearls Before Swine and commented:
    Love the message in this. I actually read this Donkey book! (Believe I blogged about it too. Perhaps I’ll reschedule mine!) I also loved the two fools example! Fav line: “While the wise writer is open to critique, she also needs to know when to stand her ground.”

  11. #15 by 1authorcygnetbrown on August 2, 2016 - 9:29 am

    As I was reading this, I was thinking about the other side of the coin and that is the idea that we write for our audience. However, I agree that part of the whole idea of writing for our audience is to include ourselves as part of that audience. I learned to write for me FIRST and eventually are people who are like me in their tastes. I appreciate my book editors advice, but in the end, the book has to resonate with me first.

    Another thing that I have found is that a lot of the criticism I have had have been from people who do even know what they are talking about! I write historical fiction and I have been criticized for putting some things in my story that those individuals say couldn’t have happened, however, because I did my research, I had written from historical facts.

    • #16 by Rachel McKee on August 2, 2016 - 10:19 am

      Your comment was a good reminder to examine the source of criticism before making changes to your story. @CygnetBrown

      • #17 by 1authorcygnetbrown on August 2, 2016 - 10:39 am

        thanks!

  12. #18 by Akaluv on August 2, 2016 - 9:47 am

    When I first started writing, I was chasing perfection. I wanted everyone to love my stories and to be popular. However, now, I don’t care. Like you mentioned, you can’t please everyone, and I’m not trying to anymore.

    • #19 by IchBinMeisterin on August 2, 2016 - 4:23 pm

      I’m definitely trying to get to your mindset. Perfectionism has done me NO FAVOURS.

  13. #20 by Simon on August 2, 2016 - 10:07 am

    It’s like all things people buy, you present your work and people either buy it or they don’t. This is a great lesson for us all and as always well written with your usual humour!🙂

  14. #21 by Rachel McKee on August 2, 2016 - 10:15 am

    I can’t tell you how many time the donkey has just sat on me and refused to move – in true donkey style. I read an article about, YA tropes that readers are “sick of”. I felt like a fool for writing these “tired” tropes into my story, I even thought of rewriting some major plot points to eliminate them. Finally my sassy side won out, and I said to hell with your tropes! This is my vision. I figured I would wait for people to review my actual story before I started deleting major plot points, rather than listening to one article. That being said, I do take criticism pretty well because I am aware of my writing flaws. I’ve heard that I need to triple check my work for extraneous words from every English professor I’ve had, just to name one of my writing weaknesses. I loved this article, thank you!

  15. #22 by Eden Royce on August 2, 2016 - 10:20 am

    Reblogged this on Eden Royce – The Dark Geisha and commented:
    Excellent article on how perfectionism can kill your work.

  16. #23 by Eden Royce on August 2, 2016 - 10:56 am

    This article resonated with me. I still occasionally struggle with worrying how my work is received, but I’m improving. (Learning that “Everything ain’t for everybody.”)

  17. #24 by kdrose1 on August 2, 2016 - 11:20 am

    Reblogged this on authorkdrose.

  18. #25 by kdrose1 on August 2, 2016 - 11:21 am

    As usual, great post.

  19. #26 by Jan Flynn on August 2, 2016 - 12:14 pm

    Brilliant. As a recovering people-pleaser myself, I need to constantly remind myself that donkey-hoisting is a waste of energy (and it annoys the donkey). Scheduling this for my next blog post at JanMFlynn.net🙂

  20. #27 by coldhandboyack on August 2, 2016 - 12:29 pm

    Great post, and I’ve seen writers who do this too. I think your word was “ship.” Eventually you have to ship.

  21. #28 by writeonthebeach on August 2, 2016 - 12:52 pm

    Really helpful post for a newbie in particular. Thank you

  22. #29 by midgebubany on August 2, 2016 - 1:07 pm

    I really related to this piece. Being a people pleaser, I have allowed myself to be swayed by opinions of my readers with what should or should not happen to the characters in my Cal Sheehan mystery series. Sometimes, you just have to ignore their opinions and write what comes natural for you and your characters.

    My blog: midgebubany.com

  23. #30 by Jade M. Phillips on August 2, 2016 - 1:26 pm

    I think a lot of the trouble is knowing when enough is enough and what to change vs. what to leave. At least that’s my issue. But as I grow as a writer, it’s becoming easier to differentiate between good criticism and just plain personal opinion. I still struggle with this, but am getting better at growing a backbone. Thanks for this post, Kristen. Good insight!

  24. #31 by lccooper on August 2, 2016 - 1:43 pm

    Two relevant quotes:

    1. “Who is more foolish–the fool or the fool who follows him?” – Obi wan Kenobi, Star Wars: A New Hope

    2. “You can’t please everyone, so you gotta please yourself.” – Ricky Nelson, “Garden Party”

    The life lessons: Write for the thrill of doing so, and don’t read consumer reviews of your stories–they’re for other readers and not the author.

    Besides, “opinions are like a**holes–everyone has one.” Both are equally noxious.

  25. #32 by Brandon L. Rucker on August 2, 2016 - 3:20 pm

    Reblogged this on #RUCKOLOGY and commented:
    Very astute from Ms. Lamb. Any serious writer has dealt with this.

  26. #33 by IchBinMeisterin on August 2, 2016 - 4:17 pm

    I REALLY struggle with the issue of perfectionism and so I needed this article like medicine. A lot of this was when I was just starting to read more about writing technique and I felt small compared to all the more experienced writers around me. If my work didn’t sound like theirs, it felt second best. I shuddered when thinking of negative reviews. So the fear just escalated until I simply wasn’t writing anything.

    I’ve become a lot more confident about writing, and I think I have found my sound. But the perfectionism issue is still a bother because I want to write crime fiction and feel intimidated by the genius of published works and TV episodes. The irony is, that I’ve watched many a Columbo episode and thought “Hmm.” or “What the hell, how could the great Columbo miss THAT?!” That’s because I’ve been reading crime fiction since middle school, but I refuse to trust myself when it comes to putting pen to paper, because I keep fearing the result won’t be Agatha Christie. (And though Christie is a genius, I can’t stomach her actual writing sometimes).

    So after reading this, I definitely have to kick myself in the backside. 1)- I’m a better writer than I was two years ago, 2)- I know how to construct a basic mystery, 3)- I must write like ME and 4)- Not everyone will like it, period.

    Great article.

  27. #34 by Ginny Q on August 2, 2016 - 6:44 pm

    Oh my gosh, I thought I was the only one! People (critics included!) RAVED about a certain mystery(ies) by Robert Galbraith a.k.a. J.K. Rowling. I LOVE mysteries, but I struggled to get through it, too. Then it picked up a bit and I liked it, and then the “twist” at the end made me frustrated.

    But you’re right about a couple things: it’s good to know that 1) even best-selling, millionaire authors aren’t perfect, and 2) you can’t please everyone. I, too, am a perfectionist, and I need these types of articles every once in a while to remind me to snap out of it🙂

  28. #35 by Elizabeth Rose on August 2, 2016 - 7:34 pm

    I was a donkey-toter for a long time. On some of my first jobs, early in my day job career, I would try to “do” everything possible. As my career progressed, I had to learn to delegate even if the job wouldn’t be done to perfection. It was a learning opportunity for the new person. And, I didn’t want to work 80 hours a week.

    I have seen some of this perfectionism manifest itself in my writing. But, I’m still working on it. I am far less comfortable and confident in the publishing arena as, well, I’ve never published anything.

    As with so many things, I think the confidence comes with time, practice, and experience. Without that, I fear it would be arrogance instead.

  29. #36 by Cathy Gillispie on August 2, 2016 - 8:59 pm

    I struggle w/pleasing – clients, readers, and myself. it’s tough. Good post!

  30. #37 by Renee on August 2, 2016 - 10:53 pm

    Hi, Kristen, great post as always. I’m pathological when it comes to people-pleasing, and there are times I think a 12-step program couldn’t even help me. The perfectionism becomes paralyzing, I find that I stall, ruminate and hand-wring. We all want to be bestsellers and wow reviewers with our wordsmithing prowess.

    Thing is, we authors can put ourselves out there, we can make it to the “show,” (a nod to “Bull Durham”) – be published by one of the major NYC based publishers with some degree of fanfare and starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, yet there is no guarantee we’ll catch on with readers. Who can explain that fairy dust magic? I can’t. Why is it that some staggeringly wonderful novels never catch fire, and the sort of pedestrian, Dick-Meets-Jane primer novels strike oil?

    When I say that, I come off as snide and snarky, one of those snobs who “knows it all,” and that’s not my intention. I’ve read middle-grade novels with simple yet elegant language that bring me to tears. What I’m getting at, is the art of writing, channeling one’s heart and soul to create a reading experience, a deep-thinking experience . . . where a reader ponders. Feels it. Has a stake in the story.

    We writers put it right out there, who we are, and we are stomped on. Daily. There’s a dark tetrad personality out there, cackling away, and your book glows with a target’s big neon stripes. She’ll post a one-star review of your book even when she hasn’t even read it. The dark tetrad is often a writer herself. Go figure.

    No small wonder we wind up perfectionists. We’d love to convince that mean reviewer that we’re the Right Stuff. (And we never will) Ergo, it’s challenging enough to stay disciplined as a writer, to produce. Then you get published and you’re suddenly at Helm’s Deep, facing certain annihilation.

    I’ve had friends who won coveted writing contests, only to have their books not sell that particularly well, and know of self-published authors who hit a goldmine with what appears to be a pretty basic novel. A writer’s success often is a matter of timing, fairy dust and talent.

    In the meantime, we dissect every word we type, a wormhole to perfectionism. When we’re not composing, we’re editing. I sometimes rewrite a page 20 friggin’ times. We attend workshops and conferences where we feel even more inadequate, especially compared to other writers who seem to happily breeze through their writing process – while we anguish, languish and any other “ish” verb that’s out there. We submerge ourselves in online classes and How-To books. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll slap my forehead and say, “Man, why I can’t I GET THIS?”

    Writing makes me feel as though I’m playing a perpetual game of “Sorry,” and my pieces keep getting moved back to Start.

    We continue to analyze what we are doing wrong. Invite others to tell us what we’re doing wrong. Ask exasperated family members what we’re doing wrong. (My poor husband) (continued)

  31. #38 by Renee on August 2, 2016 - 10:54 pm

    (continued) We meet other writer friends for face-to-face critiques. Participate in online critiques. Meet a host of people who want the same exact thing as us. We sit at our conference tables, listen to NYT bestselling authors talk about their writing journeys, and we want that.

    As writers, we watch literacy dwindle and bookstores go Jurassic.

    On Monday in a doctor’s waiting room, I saw a middle-aged woman reading an actual printed book – not hypnotized by a smart-phone, playing one of those gummy-bear type of games. I almost went up to that lady and kissed her. I know, I would’ve scared her. I scare a lot of people.

    We subject our first pages to competitions, endure strangers delivering a dismissive evaluation. What the heck do they know? They’re not published, either. So much of this drills down to opinion. I like rock, some like country. No right or wrong, it’s just preference.

    I saw a PBS documentary on the 1970’s singer John Denver. His former manager, Jerry Weintraub, spoke of Denver’s staggering success. It came out of nowhere. Folk singers inspired by Bob Dylan thought Denver too trivial. Rockers snorted and really looked down their noses. Critics at the Rolling Stone probably went into convulsive fits if they were asked to review a Denver album. Denver’s music defied category and was a frequent target.

    Yet he sold millions of records and had an utterly devoted audience who loved him. Sang along with him. Knew every lyric.

    And Denver wrote from his heart.

    Weintraub, Denver’s ex-manager and friend, couldn’t explain it. What he did say, stuck with me – and I’m paraphrasing. He said something to the effect that as creatives, we can “put our stuff out there,” but whether an audience embraces what we create – that’s another thing altogether. And that’s the fairy dust quotient. The magic. The word-of-mouth wildfire, spreading fast, defying mean-spirited reviews.

    And there we have it.

    Just because I have an unhinged desire to write and hone my skills as a storyteller, is no guarantee of a big audience. I must earn it, stay humble, work really hard. Know that there are thousands, maybe millions, who want exactly what I do.

    And grappling with all of it – the constant picking apart of every page, the self-doubt, facing the online haters who will shred apart your work with glee – understandably leads to perfectionism.

    Lately, the perfectionism cure for me has been reading classics and really great authors. I’ll read a literary work and then pour over a commercial best-seller. I’m utterly humbled by how good these authors are – LaVryle Spencer, Edna Ferber, Charlotte Bronte, and more recent authors, Sandra Brown, Craig Johnson, so many. I read a lot of cross-genre.

    I’m sure these great authors struggle (struggled) with perfectionism, and somehow, overcame it.

    They simply embraced their wretched insecurities, shoved them into a backpack and carried that weight . . . and eventually crawled across the finish line with a completed manuscript.

    Sorry this was long. Thanks for providing this wonderful forum for us.

  32. #39 by charlotteoshay on August 2, 2016 - 11:16 pm

    BEST POST ever.

  33. #40 by Debbie Johansson on August 2, 2016 - 11:34 pm

    I’ve struggled with perfectionism for so long that I find it difficult to look for beta readers, let alone send my work out. It’s something only now that I believe I’m truly starting to overcome and I think that is due to having a blog. When I received a comment from a reader that said my blog was ‘a delight to read’, I figure I must be doing something right! Thanks for the great advice, Kristen.🙂

  34. #41 by Deborah Osborne on August 3, 2016 - 12:30 am

    Hi Kristen, I think you must have written this post just for me! It’s getting printed, laminated and pinned up above my writing space.

  35. #42 by Sarah Dahl on August 3, 2016 - 12:52 am

    Great post, and now combine the donkey with the battle to write “fearless”. That’s my issue atm. To allow myself to write fearlessly, to really let go, and not tone things down, make them more “donkey-pleasing” whatever. Only beta-readers save me from that pitfall and point out where I should be more straightforward and write what I really have inside me. Such a difficult thing to let out, to catch in drafts, and to alter to what I meant to say with a piece! Thanks, Kristen!

  36. #43 by ellenchauvet on August 3, 2016 - 1:42 am

    Reblogged this on Erotic Vampire and commented:
    This is so good.

  37. #44 by ratherearnestpainter on August 3, 2016 - 6:54 am

    Gosh, you’ve covered so much ground in this post – so many issues. There is perfectionism, which can ruin an entire piece of work, and at the other end of the spectrum there is an inability to accept criticism. I think that both can be addressed by learning to look at our work objectively, which sometimes involves not looking at it for a while. A small suggestion can click, and a small tweak can make your work shine. Obsessively overworking one section can throw the whole piece out of balance and ruin what you’re trying to accomplish.

    I think that taking a break from my work and coming back to it with fresh eyes is always a healthy thing. I’ve developed a thick skin and I love feedback. The thing about feedback is, I get to do with it what I want. If I’m writing literary fiction and Kristen says it’s too wordy, then maybe I’m on the right track. (I believe you said you’d rather poke yourself in the eye with a stick than read literary fiction? Or something to that effect?) And quite frequently somebody else can see a flaw that we have missed, simply because we’ve been looking at it too long.

  38. #45 by Sheila M. Good, Author on August 3, 2016 - 8:49 pm

    Kristin,
    Boy, did you hit this donkey on the head! You described me, at times, to a tee. thank you for sharing and giving me the nudge I need. Great post. @sheilamgood at Cow Pasture Chronicles

  39. #46 by A.M. Simpson on August 4, 2016 - 10:55 pm

    This is a very timely post for me, you have no idea! I definitely look at my work for too long. By coming back to it (months sometimes), helps so much to make changes I never saw before. Everyone is a work in progress. There are always knockers (bullies) in everything. I believe writing is art. Critics and admirers come with the territory as with anyone who tries to do anything, but what one likes or doesn’t doesn’t matter as long as it makes you think or entertains, whatever the objective. So how can you critize peoples tastes? So how can you critize art? Writing has helped me to discover things about myself I never knew. It’s given me enjoyment and a new perspective on life. Be true to yourself.

  40. #47 by pakramer on August 6, 2016 - 7:35 pm

    Thanks for sharing! It was a great read.
    Just like we can never stop finding flaws in our own work, everyone else will see flaws too. Even if we reach ‘perfection,’ everyone’s definition is different. So what the point? So why do we have this urge at all? People pleasers might not find the ‘true success’ they are searching for, but where would we be if we didn’t try to write something people would like to read? We would have no success at all. The pursuit of perfection is what drives us to learn the craft, experiment, and motivates us to write in the first place. Why do anything if you don’t think you might succeed at it? But you are right, trying to please everyone will drain that passion right out of you. Like everything, moderation is key, even with perfection.

    Great post,

    Philip (https://pakramer.com)

  41. #48 by Sharon Bonin-Pratt on August 7, 2016 - 3:39 pm

    My sons love Old Man Whickutt’s Donkey, I must have read it aloud a hundred times. It’s one of those great kids’ books that speaks as much to adults, and the old man’s language made my sons and me laugh out loud every time.

    I’ve learned which of my readers have read my chapter close enough to understand the story I’m trying to tell, and which want to rewrite it and then put their name on the spine. Part of listening well is knowing when someone wants you to change your story so much that it no longer resembles your work except in title. While pretending to listen, I write in code: has no clue, doesn’t remember the earlier chapters, dislikes the entire story, never reads this genre, basing his review on everyone else’s because he didn’t actually read the chapter.

    I’ve learned when to consider the changes suggested and I take such advice seriously but not all the way over the falls.

    Thanks for another thoughtful post to head me in the WRITE direction.

  42. #49 by Kat Magendie on August 8, 2016 - 8:40 am

    My first novel I wrote for just the sheer joy of it – because I was curious and because I loved the characters. The others followed and with each one I became doubtful and worried – money became an issue – either I made it and then lost it or lost it then made it or blah blah blah.

    I didn’t write a novel for over 2 years. I never thought I’d be “that author” – the one who didn’t write. I used to scoff at that. ha! Welp. Yeah.

    Yesterday I started working on the novel I put down several years ago. the one that made ME happy – the one that I won’t worry about sales or if anyone will like it. I like it. So. There I go and here I go.

  43. #50 by Courtney M. Wendleton on August 9, 2016 - 3:44 am

    Reblogged this on Books and More.

  44. #51 by lorraineambers on August 11, 2016 - 6:37 am

    I’m afraid of what people say but realize, people can be mean or nasty for the fun of it. I love your donkey analogy. I’ll try not to carry it.

  45. #52 by Melissa Lewicki on August 16, 2016 - 3:17 pm

    I heard a story years ago about a man who was a perfectionist and was sent to a therapist by his company. The therapist talked to him and pointed out the disadvantages to being a perfectionist. The man enthusiastically said he got it and that with the therapist’s help he would be the best damn non-perfectionist the therapist had ever seen!!

    • #53 by ratherearnestpainter on August 16, 2016 - 4:10 pm

      My brother used to obsessively look at every little thing in his life to make sure he wasn’t obsessing about it.

  46. #55 by Gal Hanukaev on August 19, 2016 - 11:08 am

    Awh, love-hate relationship with perfectionism. I used to be obssesed with making sure everything is PERFECT before I am done. It was a nightmare because I was never done. I am glad I am over that nowadays because I am very happy with my posts thanks to that. Great post – thanks!
    You are more than welcome to stop by🙂

  1. Is Perfectionism Killing Your Success? — Kristen Lamb’s Blog | The Owl Lady
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  4. Top Picks Thursday! For Readers and Writers 08-11-2016 | The Author Chronicles

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