“Last, perfectionism is not a way to avoid shame. Perfectionism is a function of shame.”
― Brené Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.
Perfectionism is the enemy of good writing. It’s a savage problem clothed in a pretty word. So many women writers grapple with this issue, and it’s no wonder: girls are trained perfectionists.
Beloved feminist poet Adrienne Rich wrote a collection called “Diving into the Wreck”, and I think that title can serve as a kind of call to action. Writing is messy work. It brings tears and unearths pain and debris, like ground wrenched open in a quake. It is by its nature imperfect. In time, through our editing, we will roll it toward perfection, but our writing will always remain a subjective and immeasurable thing.
So what is the antidote to perfectionism? Author and shame specialist Brené Brown would call it acceptance of shame as a universal phenomenon, development of shame resilience and the growth of a self-compassion in which we stop sourcing our value from our flawless doing.
And how does that translate into writing? Author Anne Lamott would call it “the shitty first draft.” “All good writers write them,” she writes, “This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts.”
Personally, my best writing has emerged, in one way or another, from my worst. I push myself to the page after weeks of inertia and “write bad”, only to discover that within days, I am writing the odd good line, and within weeks, a new writing concept bursts forth. With the perspective of years, it’s easy to see that my current writing has been built on decades of “imperfect” narratives, now the supportive foundation of my brightest work.
As we relax our need to be perfect, we can find that our writing is more fun — a throwback to childhood for some, before we knew the meaning of the word “critic”—when we delighted in our crazy storytelling for its own sake and without a second thought.