Here to Create

We are here to create not merely survive.

4 Tips to Beat Perfectionism

on August 27, 2007

Here There Be Dragons laptopI want to expand on my post 10 Tips to Hold on to the Enthusiasm by addressing perfectionism and the procrastination it creates.

One of my chronic problems with producing creative works is starting at all, because I fear that the finished novel, necklace, or collage won’t be any good. I often tell myself that I need to have things just so – the right notebook, an organized workroom, or just a little more knowledge before I begin. Because the conditions for creativity are never perfect, I sometimes talk myself out of beginning.

Letting go of my perfectionist tendencies has taken me years since I first identified the problem. Here are some of the ways I’ve learned to avoid that feeling of dread when I think about starting a new project.

  1. Embrace freewriting and doodling
    When I sit down to freewrite – to let all the thoughts that come to me just pour out whether they’re good, bad, or unrelated to anything at all – it doesn’t matter if they’re any good. I don’t expect all my ideas to be good when I’m freewriting. That’s the point, to clear my mind of both bad and good. The more I practice freewriting, the less I expect perfection in my more focused writing.
  2. Play with the idea
    When I’ve identified an idea I want to work on, I let myself play with it first. I freewrite about a character’s history before I begin thinking about that character’s place in my novel. I work out most of my new jewelry designs first with inexpensive copper wire, giving me room to fail without wasting more expensive silver or gold wire. If I tell myself I’m just playing, not doing anything serious, there’s no room for procrastination to squeeze into my thoughts.
  3. Jump in
    If I can get myself to start working without thinking too much about what I’m doing, I can immerse myself in the idea and not worry about how successful the project will end up being. When I come up for air, the writing or other task is often going well, and I have more confidence to keep going. Also, if I’ve reached the point where I’m thoroughly enjoying what I’m doing, I don’t really care if the piece is “successful” or not – I’m just caught up in the joy of creating.
  4. Goals are good, but don’t get carried away
    When I get a terrific idea for a new novel, sometimes I can’t help but imagine how it would be to have it published. Immediately, I’m paralyzed and can’t begin. From thinking the idea is brilliant, I spin right around and just know it’s terrible and would never be published, so why waste my time on it? Now I do my best to avoid thinking in terms of lofty goals. Instead I make my goals more manageable: finishing a novel, for instance, rather than publishing one.

These tips were inspired by 7 Ways to Grow the Action Habit from Pick the Brain.

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