On the Diagnosis and Treatment of Acute Perfectionitis

Recently I received an email notification about this blog post in my inbox. It took me a little off guard because I didn’t remember when I had subscribed to this particular blog. But when I read the post I remembered. It had just been a long time since the blog had updated.

In the post itself the blog’s author discussed how growing doubt and uncertainty had kept her from posting anything in over a month, how that she had agonized over whether her writing was really good enough and how people would receive her work. It was a beautifully written piece, and I thought it was terribly courageous for this woman to share her fears so freely.

She’s not the only one with this problem either. I suffer from the same thing every week, and I suspect some of you do too.

“But Albert,” you may say, “Your blog updates every day (barring Sundays.) Surely you’ve conquered those demons of self doubt by now.”

Nope. Sorry to say I haven’t. See I suffer from a little thing called perfectionitis. Totally a real disorder. Not one I just made up as I was typing that sentence at all.

Perfectionitis is that feeling you get when you look back over your blog post and it just doesn’t look quite right. Something’s off. Maybe it doesn’t flow the way you wanted it to. Maybe it meanders from the originally prescribed topic. Maybe you can’t think of a third thing for your list of maybes.

You start to panic. “This is crap,” you think to yourself. “If I post this they’ll eat me alive. All my followers will leave and never return. Oh despair!”

Calm. Down.

You’re going off the rails. What you really need is a healthy dose of Truth to straighten you out. So here goes:

Truth Number One: your blog is not perfect.

Face it. You made a mistake somewhere along the way.

There’s a typo in your post somewhere. That sentence you’re closing the post with just doesn’t really give a good feeling of conclusion.  You can’t think of a good third thing in your list of things that might be wrong with a blog post (seriously this one gets me every time.)

Whatever. Nobody’s perfect. I’m not perfect. You’re not perfect. We aren’t going to bat a thousand every game. This is a fact of life. Deal with it.

Fact Number Two: it doesn’t matter.

Here’s a little tidbit that will shock your socks off: Your readers do not hate you. They are not sitting at the edge of their chairs peering into their screens and thinking, “Aha! I found a typo! All my months of waiting have finally paid off. To the comments!”

Probably they’re people just like you. They’re reading your blog because they think you might have something interesting to say. The truth is, most people want to like your blog.

They aren’t looking for a reason to leave. They’re looking for a reason to stay.

You do not have to be perfect.

Fact Number Three: consistency is just as important as quality.

Please note that I did not say that quality is unimportant. This is another area where you need that magic quality of balance. Yes, you should be concerned with how well you’ve written your blog. Yes, you should check your work as best you can.

But if you can’t get it perfect post it anyway.

Here’s a fact that probably won’t shock you. Almost every website that I visit regularly updates regularly. My favourite blogs are the ones that have new posts multiple times a week. And not all those posts have to be perfect and wonderful for me to keep coming back to those blogs.

A while back, Chuck Wendig made a few posts about playing the game Minecraft. I have zero interest in Minecraft, but I didn’t say, “Well Chucky I’ll be taking my blog reading services elsewhere thank you very much.” Because the next day he had another post and another one on the day after that, they had something I could learn from.

Bottom line is this: we are creatures of habit. If you post the single greatest blog post in the history of the world and then stop, chances are no one is going to notice. If you want to gain any kind of following you have to keep pushing through that demon of doubt.

And who knows? You might not love that blog post but someone else might. Often we criticize ourselves so harshly we forget to see the good in our work.

So that’s my two cents worth. I hope that it’s given you some encouragement. But if not, then stick around. I’ll try something else tommorow.

28 responses to “On the Diagnosis and Treatment of Acute Perfectionitis

  1. The perfect is the enemy of the good. And stuff.

    Digging your blog these days.

    — c.

  2. I have that last problem, consistency, because I have the first couple problems. I think, “Oh, this will make a great blog post!”and then when I sit down to write it, there’s nothing interesting there. Usually, I can sum up what I want to say about the topic in a paragraph and then what? Snore. Or I can think of ten people who’ve already talked about it better.

    I’m still trying to figure out how to work it, maybe only update once a week (on the same day) till I can get back into the swing of it. I used to write five days a week but it was SO inane I had to stop. I was boring MYSELF. So. :/

    • If you can only write a couple of paragraphs on a topic then go ahead and write those paragraphs and post them. Just make sure they’re good paragraphs. No one ever said blogs have to be long. If brevity is what comes naturally to you then go for it.
      But if you’re boring yourself then, yes. Stop. Take a look at what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. I write about writing because it’s my passion. Even if I don’t get it perfect I’m writing from my heart.
      Writing is a lot like teaching in a way. If a teacher is bored with the topic you know the students are going to be bored with it too. But if the teacher loves what they’re talking about then they’ll be able to make a much bigger impact.
      Write what you love.
      This is my credo.

  3. My first reaction was: If you’re going to agonize to the point of paralysis about a blog post, how are you ever going to manage to write a novel?

    I look at something like perfectionitis the way I look at (for instance) my face blindness. Face blindness is considered a disability. But mine is very mild, and I’ve developed ways to cope with it. So, for me, it’s an inconvenience rather than a disability. The difference between a disability and an inconvenience is your ability to control or modify it so that it doesn’t keep you from functioning.

    • This is something I planned to say in the post, but didn’t quite find the place for it: your blog is not your novel. You should work at your novel for as long as it takes to get it right. Perfectionitis can still kill you there too, but it’s more useful to indulge it when you’re talking about a work that has to stand the test of time.

      • that is a really good point.
        And it’s a good post. Fortunately, I wasn’t born with perfectionitis, but I have the opposite problem: not going through the details and making sure my draft is just right. That’s why I have to work so hard at revising.

      • Actually, even your novel won’t be perfect. As long as it’s good enough (or rather, professional enough), it would be okay.

  4. I can relate to every single word you say in this blog and your advice is very encouraging. I have another problem to add to all this. I get great ideas and sometimes the entire composition of sentences and paragraphs of a blog post pass through my mind when I go out on walks but when I return home and sit down to write it, pfft, it’s gone! Not a word of it can I transcribe onto the computer. I’ve lost at least 20 to 30 articles, blog posts, poems and stories to this disease. I’m still wondering how to cure it. Any ideas? 🙂

    • You can’t keep it all. I had a lot of stuff in my mind that I thought would go into this post and it just didn’t. The ideas aren’t as important as the writing. Ideas are free. Writing takes work.
      Also, keep a notebook with you. I try to do this, and it’s helped in the past, though what I’ve found is I have more ideas than I have time to write them all.

      • Thanks Albert. I had thought of carrying a book, but hadn’t tried it yet. Will surely do that now.

  5. Gowri, carry a small notebook with you (don’t forget a pen), to scribble down enough of the idea so that it will serve as a trigger when you get back to the keyboard.

    But there are always more ideas where the lost ones came from. Sometimes I think I know exactly what I want to write when I sit down to a blog post. Then, what comes out is completely different.

  6. This post was exactly what I needed to read today…I also suffer from perfectionitis and workaholism. Those are dangerous when intertwined. Time for me to relax and let loose. 🙂

  7. Hang on, was I supposed to be posting quality? Oops. I’ve a perfectionist mentality but did doesn’t show up on my blogging. I look at this as my venting, my reasoning things out and I like “meeting” people. That said, I’m a Professional Deleter.

  8. Perfect freaks me out- to the point that I’ll do anything just to avoid that word. However, being brutal and candid comes with it’s very own sort of anxiety.

    I couldn’t help commenting on the post you linked to, because it’s definitely just a stunning, beautiful sort of post. I’m not even a writer and I found myself nodding in agreement with those emotions expressed.

  9. Oooh, I cringed a little. But thanks for the post. It helped me relax a little.

    A part of writing that post was that I felt I owed readers an explanation, and also writing about it helps me work through it.

    Reading your post made me wonder if I could really call myself a perfectionist. It’s funny that I don’t act like this when it comes to writing. I’ve written the first draft of two novels, and I’ve posted dozens of short stories on artsites without much fear. But there are definitely other aspects of my life where I display perfectionitis which I had not thought about in that way before.

    Thinking outside of striving for perfection . . . there’s also something specifically frightening about talking to people far more experienced than yourself on a topic you’re passionate about. Being nineteen, I often feel I’m too inexperienced to be in such inspiring company here.

    • I hope it didn’t hurt too much. I was impressed with the poise and passion you exhibited in your post and I thought that people could learn something from your (and my) insecurities.
      For what it’s worth I’m hoping you’ll be blogging more often in the future.
      Take it from me, you don’t have to be an expert in order to have something worthwhile to say. If you’re 19 and you’ve got two first drafts written then you’re already further down the road than I was at your age. Keep up the good work and never let yourself be intimidated by the idea that you’re not old enough. It doesn’t matter how old you are; it matters how good you are.

  10. Great words. I really relate. Especially to the “Oh, this is crap” part. Part of the challenge for me in blogging consistently is that there are so many steps involved. As a food blogger, I have to bake, photograph, and then come up with something to say about it. When I started I had the goal of posting three times a week. That way lies madness and burnout.

  11. Keep on keepin’ on, my friend….
    You are right as usual….

  12. I feel that I suffer a lot from the ‘this is not that great’ problem a lot, but I have decided it is much more important to keep writing, then worrying about how great it all is.

  13. I treat my blog as my journal and my friend. It never occurs to me that what I post will not be acceptable. I know for sure from the get go it is not perfect, b/c perfect is an illusion and is subjective. However, it is The Best my blog can be in that moment, in that post.
    My journal does not care how or what I write on its pages, only that I write. My friends’ only requirement is that I am intelligible; that they can understand the words I speak, not that they necessarily make sense the first time the come out of my mouth. :o)
    I give my journal and my friends the essence of my heart when I writer or talk and so it is with my blog as well. It never even crosses my mind that someone might not like what I write. It is my best and someone out there will resonate.
    I do go back and correct misspellings and an occasional non-sensible sentence. Otherwise, the best writing to read is the writing that is not scrutinized or second guessed, but the one that is thrown out into the spotlight in its most pure format. The piece that vibrates with the excitement of the original text, oblivious to the inhabitations of the Human critic living inside the author is the one that is sure to entertain.
    Thanks for the thought provoking post! Always good to stop & remember why we write and when you are having fun you don’t have to be perfect~AmberLena

  14. If for nothing else, I started blogging to ramp up my output. It’s quickly become a sort of community where I can look to other bloggers who are struggling writers, and see that I am not alone in my troubles. Thank you for sharing, and motivating the rest of us perfectionists!

  15. Thanks for this – the part about consistency really hit me since I tend to think if I don’t have anything interesting and fabulous to say, I should just wait till tomorrow – but I know I read other blogs that I appreciate even if they just post a few words that basically tell me they don’t have much to say that day. An interesting point.

  16. We are all human and will make mistakes. In my day job as a Doc, the trick is to limit my errors to minor ones.

    I write and play music with abandon, though. If I wreck a passage no one dies, so art is a no pressure gig.

    Remember, writing isn’t a matter of life and death, it’s a lot more important than that.

    Dr. B, author, “The Mandolin Case”

  17. I was a recovering perfectionist. Actually, it stemmed from the fact that only my things are the ones that I can’t control. When I realized that it doesn’t matter whether I’m perfect or not, I learned to relax and just have fun. Ironically, I had more control in my life now that I just let go.

    Besides, it doesn’t matter if we’re perfect. What matters is that we do our best and to continuously improve our work.

  18. I’ve read quite a few blog posts that talk about increasing traffic to them and not once have I read something as real as this. So thank you!

    Great post! 🙂

  19. Pingback: At Least Say Something « The Gig

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