Geetanjali Mukherjee

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Shadow of Perfectionism

Things have been a little too quiet here on the blog front, because I have been busy frantically trying to complete a book that is releasing early in September (more details here). I really thought I would be done by now - especially as the first draft of this book only took me 3 weeks, which is quite a record for me.

Somehow however, the subsequent drafts is taking more than twice as long, which is very frustrating. And I have been racking my brains trying to figure out why. I'm putting in more hours than I did before (in fact, I meticulously track my time with my trusty app everyday, so I know how much my time commitment has increased by). I am working everyday, sacrificing things like outings and socializing so that I can make faster progress.

The other thing I have done much better with this book than previous ones is to track my progress, and plan what I will get done, how and when. I have steps laid out that describe what I will do in what order, and then I also write daily goals. The problem is that I never seem to be able to complete what I plan to each day, and even when I do, it feels like I'm going at a very slow pace.

The only thing I can think of to explain the slow progress - perfectionism. I have been laboring over every footnote, every reference, every sentence. Even though my planning process provides for a whole line editing stage, later, once the content has been finalized. After all, there is no point perfecting a sentence that ultimately gets thrown out. And yet, I somehow can't seem to stop myself from trying to do that anyway.

I have been trying to apply the advice from Hillary Rettig's book on becoming a prolific writer, and while her book has helped my process, I still can see that I'm not truly giving in. She suggests not trying to perfect anything - just making obvious changes and edits and moving on to the next section, and by doing things just in little bits, you actually make faster progress, with less stress. Somehow that isn't working - because I can't seem to leave a section till the thorny problems are worked out. And that tendency makes me avoid sections - because I know it has thorny problems that I will then be forced to fix, right then and there.

This is where the title of this post comes in: the shadow cast by perfectionism. By insisting my work looks perfect as I go along, or that I do research again on sections that I have already written, I am going much slower than I need to, feeling frustrated and hating the process of writing a book that initially I was really looking forward to. Not only that, since I have been thinking about perfectionism, I have been seeing how its rearing its ugly head almost everywhere in my life lately.

I have been putting off writing blog posts because I don't feel I have the perfect topic to write about. Or start working on my novel - which till just a little while ago I was quite excited about. Or a long list of other things. There are so many projects that I won't even begin because I am worried that I won't do them perfectly.

I know many readers (perhaps coming from the same place I usually am) think perfectionism is a good thing, another name for it could be "having standards". Sure its not a bad thing to have standards. But what if they hold you back from achieving what you really want to in life? I have recently been really thinking about what I want to accomplish, and thinking about time and years as an incredibly finite resource that is slowly ticking away no matter how much in denial I am about it.

Recently reading about some incredibly success women, mostly my own age, who have accomplished a lot, many things they knew nothing about when they started, I looked at myself and wondered - what would I be able to accomplish if I were to stop demanding to do it perfectly? This question has been bringing up some uncomfortable answers. It appears there is a lot I could do if I weren't hung up on doing everything perfectly. Putting aside the fact that I haven't done anything perfectly ever (because how could you really, when everything is improvable), I think its an impossibly high standard and one that would only allow you to try things you are already good at. And in my opinion that's no way to live. Afraid to step out of my "good" zone. I would never grow or learn new things in that way. Or would learn very very slowly.

And really, that's the shadow of perfectionism. It stops you from being all you could be, and how incredibly sad is that? I vow from today that even though I may not always win, I will battle with this monster daily, not letting it rob me of all that delicious possibility.

And now I turn to you dear reader; ask yourself this question - what would I be able to accomplish if I were to stop demanding to do it perfectly?

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