Patrick has been working on the same story for three months now, rearranging words, adding a few lines, deleting others, and revising descriptions. “I can’t write anything else until this one is perfect,” he explains to his writing group.
If you are walking in Patrick’s shoes, remember, it’s super to have a polished, perfect story, but your descendants would rather have piles of drafts than half a dozen jewels. Even if you are working on a piece for publication, there’s a point beyond which you are unlikely to add value by obsessing. Start a new file and move on to escape the Perfection Trap.
Maryanne hasn’t written anything at all for several weeks, but keeps coming to group meetings, “Because I know if I don’t come, I’ll never get around to writing again.” Privately, Maryanne admits that when she thinks about sitting down to write, twenty-nine things seem more urgent. She’s beginning to realize that she just doesn’t feel like her stories measure up to her own standards or the work she hears others reading.
To all the Maryannes in the world (and your numbers are legion): There is no wrong way to write. Your story is as personal as your fingerprint. Revel in your uniqueness. Celebrate yourself. Let your words flow onto paper with as much abandon as they flow forth in conversation, and be pleased that they will reflect your warm and loving heart and personality.
If typing your story seems overwhelming, write with pen, write with pencil, write with crayons or markers. When it comes to writing lifestories, quality is good, quantity is better, anything is better than nothing, and it doesn't matter how the words get onto paper.
Have a talk with your Inner Critic and explain that your usual standards of excellence are to be held in abeyance, at least for now. Yes, you want to do a good job, but any lifestory you write (no matter how rough and crude) is better than writing nothing. So crank out those drafts (put “draft copy” at the top if it will make you feel better), edit as you get a chance — without obsessing over it, and watch that story legacy grow.
Write now: a journal entry or personal essay about your attitude toward perfection in your writing.