The Double-Headed Demon of Perfectionism

This week I’ve been busy with a few things. One, I’ve got an edit letter steaming on my desk, which means I’d better get busy on my revisions soon! Second, I’ve been on a writing retreat at home using The Artists’ Way, working my way through the chapters. Guess what last week’s chapter was about?

Perfectionism.

I like to think of myself as a recovering perfectionist. I’ve let go of many things that I once would have obsessed over in my life. My house is no longer picture perfect. I quit trying to have the perfect gardens and plant only the things I’m interested in growing. I don’t get angry at myself if I don’t make a word quota or a self-imposed deadline anymore. I just adjust my expectations. I don’t try to edit while I draft. I let a draft sit for six to eight weeks before I mess with it, sometimes longer. I don’t expect perfection of myself. Good for me, right? I’m a perfectly adjusted perfectionist.

Have you ever noticed that the moment you start to get all proud of yourself, thinking you’ve got something mastered, something comes along to kick you in your rear end? Usually right into the nearest mud puddle?

There are two heads on the demon of perfectionism.

The other half of the monster decides that not fixing that porch because you wanted to work on other things is a statement about your belief system. The other half of that monster says that gardening without a sense of timing is just fine, and it’s okay to raise a plant you don’t intend to care for. The other half is the part that decides your drafts are always amazing and you know everything there is to know about craft. You don’t need to change anything because…ugh, your draft is, well…

Perfect?

See what I mean?

It doesn’t go away.

Most of my monsters don’t. They hang out in the closet, waiting to jump out at me and ruin my life. While I may have the first monster’s head pretty well bagged, the second one is always there to eat me.

But it’s the same root monster.

Here’s the quote that convicted me:

“Perfectionism has nothing to do with getting it right. It has nothing to do with fixing things. It has nothing to do with standards. Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move ahead. It is a loop—an obsessive, debilitating closed system that causes you to get stuck in the details of what you are writing or painting or making and to lose sight of the whole.”

                                                                                    Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

Well, look at that.

The refusal to move ahead.

That can be refusing to move on to the next page because the first one isn’t right. It can also be refusing to consider mistakes or correct them because that means you have to move on to the next page.

These next few weeks are going to be huge. Not only do I get to decide what I have done well, I have to face everything I haven’t done well, say, “Oh, boy, is that a mess!” and dive right in with the same enthusiasm with which I initially wrote the book. Not aiming for perfection. Not pretending the problems don’t exist. I won’t let either head of the perfectionism demon get me.

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