Pet Peeve Confession: Perfectionism AKA Every Single Flaw is in My Face and They Won't Disappear and Great, Now I Hate Everything

In my last post, I had a five-step plan to avoid making dead fics. One step was to complete a first draft before posting chapters of it on FP. The only problem with that step is that it is incredibly rare for me to complete a draft. No complete draft means no work on FP, which ensures that I follow the "no dead fic" policy, but also turns it into a "none of your stories will be on the Internet" policy.

Not what I was going for.

I realize I am still struggling with a hobby-hating aspect of my life that I haven't fully escaped: perfectionism.

A Mindset Problem

A few years ago, my perfectionist tendencies conditioned me to hate writing. After drafting my first story in years, I wanted to make it better. As a result, I focused on flaws, which was not a good idea for someone who had an unbalanced view of them.

I compiled the list of problems you saw in the last rant and instead of spitting out the words needed to push through said problems and write a complete novel, I second-guessed and cut almost every new word. I didn't allow myself the freedom to get ideas down and work them out later. Every idea needed to be good now. If an idea wasn't, it wasn't worth using. Apparently, I had lots of bad ideas.

I wasn't writing to tell a story anymore. I was writing to push a story to an state that didn't exist because I hadn't written it yet. I wanted to improve but sabotaged my means to do so, which made me miserable.

A Mindset Solution

In an attempt to take perfectionism out of my writing habits, I look to a hobby I don't hate yet: drawing. I've learned three lessons from drawing, and applying them to writing might make drafting easier.

A rough sketch is not a finished product.

My rough sketch is a preliminary sketch: I draw a "stick figure" of a character. The anatomy won't always be accurate. The lines that represent limbs will probably be moved. After I cement the pose and bring the anatomy to working order, the rough sketch will be erased (or, for the digital artists out there, it'll be invisible). As simple and transient as it is, that sketch serves as the basis for the finished product. It's not the finished product and I don't treat it as such. Rather, it captures the bare bones of what I want to convey, and I can flesh it out from there.

I should approach a rough draft like I do a rough sketch: think about it enough to figure out its big picture, but not so much that I stall on making the big picture. Even though big chunks of a story will be cut, rearranged, or added in subsequent drafts, that's completely fine and not reflective of my skill as an author. More drafts and new scenes will get me closer to the story I want to tell. I can't get closer to a good story if I don't write a complete draft, just like how I can't bring a sketch to life without laying down the basics first.

Finished is better than flawless.

All of my artwork has flaws. I can point those flaws out to you in detail, but I try not to zero in on them. I focus on an entire piece and how happy it makes me feel to have accomplished it. That takes the sting of perfectionism away and I can say with confidence, "Yup, that's mine, no stealing."

The stories I will post (or repost) on FP will definitely be flawed, but they will be stories I can look at confidently. As long as I'm happy with the story overall, I'll post it.

Improving your art doesn't come from perfecting one piece at a time. It comes from making and learning from dozens of practice pieces.

I used to cringe at my old artwork, thinking that "I was so bad at drawing back then." True, I was not as good at drawing when I was twelve compared to when I was fourteen. That said, the work I made in the past was the best work I could produce at the time. As long as I learned from them, my cringe-worthy artwork was worth making, even if it wasn't that good. With that in mind, I have no need to put my younger self or older artwork down anymore. So I don't.

The only reason I could improve on my drawings was because I learned from my mistakes over time, not because I tried to fix all the mistakes I made then and there. I didn't go from drawing lumps for shoes to shoes in one sketch. No, I made dozens and dozens of shoe-rocks, tweaking their shapes until shoe-like things became the norm, and tweaking those until shoes became the norm.

I don't want to make the same mistakes over and over again, but I probably will. As long as I learn how to fix them, with tutorials and deliberate practice, that's okay.

Three lessons, one rough draft. Let's see if I can escape perfectionism now.

For readers: Do you battle with perfectionism? If you do, what helps you fight it? If you don't, how to do you react when you realize your work could be better?

Bonus Material: I've posted drawings on my blog so you can visualize what I'm talking about (a link is on my profile). Rants with pictures! Yay!