I started writing as a ten-year-old, inspired by my favorite authors who, in my mind, were the epitome of success. I longed to capture the hearts and imaginations of readers as powerfully as they captured mine. Yet, as I’ve matured as a writer, a bad habit has forced me to reconsider my outlook on success.
I’m a chronic perfectionist.
I know I’m not alone, because many writers wrestle with the same problem. Perhaps you do too. Although perfectionism can have positive side effects, such as making you disciplined and meticulous, it also breeds unhealthy attitudes and stunts creativity. Because it’s a mindset that stems from fear, you’ll find yourself, as I so often have, micromanaging every detail, underestimating your skills, and second-guessing your decisions. You’ll avoid taking risks (the denominator of creativity) instead of pushing your own boundaries.
Obsessing about whether you’re “good enough” prevents you from growing and being productive, which can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. But perfectionism doesn’t have to lead to that result. Through God’s grace, I’m learning to temper my desire to excel so that it propels me forward instead of holding me back with the chains of insecurity. And I want to share six tips that can help you recover too.
1. Silence Your Inner Editor
Shift your focus from polishing every word to filling up blank space. Write as much as you can as fast as you can. Don’t backtrack to fix errors or reword sentences—the temptation will be excruciating at first, so start small, with one paragraph or five minutes of time. As you become more relaxed, increase the duration.
Initially, when I tried free-writing a segment of my work-in-progress, my mind balked. So I experimented with other ideas, and I wasn’t as worried about ruining the story without the pressure of a long-term commitment. If perfectionism is still nagging you, switch to a new project. Devote ten minutes to journaling or exploring a writing prompt.
At the end of your free-writing session, you’ll probably have an uncomfortably messy draft. But that’s normal—and I’d even say it’s good. The purpose of this exercise is not to achieve the level of quality you’d need to win a contest or land an agent. It’s to teach you to see mistakes as part of the process. Once you’ve hit your quota, you can revise as much as necessary. Each rough spot is nothing worse than an opportunity for improvement.
2. Give Yourself Reasonable Goals and Challenges
Perfection is a myth. No one ever truly masters storytelling. You could spend your whole life studying and practicing and still not understand everything. So if you’re hoping to reach a point where your writing no longer needs refining, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
However, that doesn’t mean you should quit or settle for mediocrity. What it means is that you need to scale back your expectations and be patient. As a child, I dreamt of my novels appearing on the New York Times bestseller list. But since I had zero writing experience, I needed to aim for a more realistic accomplishment first: finishing a short story.
You should be stretching yourself outside of your comfort zone (otherwise you’ll stagnate!), but in manageable increments that align with your broader aspirations. For example, I don’t currently have enough marketing savvy to build a large author platform, but I can still invest time and energy into expanding my social media connections. And although I’m weak at crafting distinctive character voices, I’m purposefully including multiple points of view in my latest project to hone that skill. These goals challenge me without being overwhelming and unattainable.
3. Cultivate Friendships with Other Writers
Perfectionism isolates you. You can’t bear to hear negative feedback, so you don’t share your work with anyone—until, perhaps, you gather the courage to approach an acquisitions editor, whose rejection email tells you nothing except that you fell short somewhere. When you try to pursue a writing career alone, you miss one of the biggest blessings available to you: community.
Interacting with other writers keeps you grounded. Opening yourself up to criticism is scary—for every writer, not just you. Every writer has bad days and cranks out bad stories. But that doesn’t make you a failure. It makes you as human as the next writer. Your support group can reinforce this truth and encourage you to persevere in the face of obstacles.
Before I joined the Story Embers team, I was a member of a creative writing club in high school. I’d received enough constructive criticism that it didn’t faze me anymore. Or so I thought. I’d been following Story Embers since its launch, and their high-quality content amazed me. I soon realized that it intimidated me too, because I became paralyzed with anxiety when I had to submit my first article. Much to my relief, my critique partner sent me positive comments alongside kind suggestions. Again and again, the publishing team has met me with compassion and shaped my most chaotic drafts into cohesive articles. Working here has taught me how to collaborate with others and lean on them when I’m having trouble completing an assignment, which has strengthened me both as a writer and as a follower of Christ.
As Philippians 2:1–4 emphasizes, community is as essential to your walk of faith as it is to your writing: “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
One of the benefits of the Story Embers team is that everyone here loves God and strives to honor Him. But whether you hook up with a writing group as dedicatedly Christian as this one or not, I’d recommend also looking for spiritual accountability from people in your life who aren’t writers. They’ll keep your pride, self-pity, and other flaws that writers are prone to in check.
4. Humble Yourself and Ask for Help
I tend to be reluctant to admit that I can’t finish a task on my own because it fills me with a sense of defeat. But I’ve come to recognize and confront that feeling as a form of pride. I’m not an expert at everything, and that’s okay. Seeking guidance from people who are ahead of me in the writing journey is not demeaning. It’s wise.
Perfectionism defines your self-worth in terms of your earthly successes and insists that, if you’re truly talented, you don’t need mentoring. The instant you stumble or call for help, your value decreases. Scripture refutes that lie. In Philippians 3:7–8, Paul describes his own achievements as meaningless compared to the redemption he’s received through Christ: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
Humility is your greatest weapon against pride, and God can show you how to wield it. He’s your source of creativity and peace and everything else you need to be able to write. Through your imperfections, He can reveal His perfection. Blogger Sophie Agbonkhese explains the transformation that happens when you stop chasing impossible standards: “When we are under the illusion that we can achieve perfection, pride will take root in our hearts. But when we acknowledge upfront how far away from perfection we are, He can grow in us a spirit of humility, making us more like Christ.”
Next time you’re frustrated, remember that every writer has gotten stuck or botched a technique. Set aside your pride and ask for advice. If that’s too painful, reframe the experience as a practice in humility.
5. Pray about Your Perfectionism
Perfectionism is an inward issue, so you need to talk to the One who rules over your heart. Pour out your struggles instead of sinking into despair, as Paul urges in Philippians 4:6–7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Trust Him to forgive you and fulfill the promise of Philippians 1:6: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
6. Treat Perfectionism as an Editing Superpower
My favorite stage of writing is the revision process. It’s when I’m allowed to fuss over that character with the incomplete backstory or that stilted line of dialogue. When you’re in the middle of a first draft, perfectionism can make you nitpick minuscule elements, stalling your progress. But a healthy amount of it during editing can drive you toward excellence. It’s a trait to befriend rather than ban.
Remember Why You Write
If I’m honest, I didn’t start writing all those years ago to earn awards or fame. I loved telling stories and felt called to it. But perfectionism gnawed at my joy, reducing writing to a chore.
When perfectionism wears you down, think back to the moment you decided to become a writer. What was your motivation? Proving your intelligence, capability, or worth? Or fascination with the act of transporting readers into fictional worlds that leave them changed? Center yourself on that instead of everything you are (or might be) doing wrong. Soon writing will become fun again.
Allison Raymond has been captivated by stories for as long as she can remember. She was only eleven years old when she came to recognize writing as God’s purpose for her life. Although many years have passed since that moment, she has never doubted this purpose. Instead, she chooses to spend her time working hard to make her dream of becoming a published novelist a reality.
Allison grew up in Virginia, Illinois, and Oklahoma. She now lives in Missouri, where she is attending college in pursuit of a degree in Secondary English Education. In the future, she hopes to become a high school English teacher to share her passion for storytelling with aspiring young writers. Currently, she shares this passion on her personal blog and in a large number of her daily conversations.