Are You a Perfect Writer?

Have you ever noticed the thing we want often shows up at just the right time?


While I was thinking about writing a blog post I literally stumbled across the quote by John Updike—Perfection is the enemy of creation. And there I had it, an idea to blog about. Thanks Universe, you’re one cool dude!


Many of us admit to being perfectionists in some area of our lives if not all. While I hardly consider myself a perfectionist, I can be quite nitpicky when it comes to writing. I often spend outrageous amounts of time writing and rewriting paragraphs, waltzing around with an armful of words without ever making it off the dance floor. Sometimes the changes I make are so slight it probably makes no difference to anyone but me. I like to fiddle with words, and move sentences around. It’s fun. It’s challenging. It’s a delight!


I really don’t know if that means I’m a perfectionist or that I’m a little on the anal side when it comes to writing. So sue me. What I do know is, there’s no better way to stifle creative endeavours, no better way to stop a story in mid scene, than constantly striving for that perfect flow of words the first time through. In fact, that’s kind of where I am with one of my stories at the moment, and I’ve got to stop it. Okay, so I am anal—there I’ve admitted it. Are you happy now?


While it would be easy to become envious of those writers who can simply let their creativity take over as they write that first draft, I stand back in awe with hopes that one day my creativity will lead me to write a first draft without the need for me to look over my shoulder even once. I truly think that writers who are able to write, write, write are far more productive than those of us who write, revise, edit, write, and inch our way to the end. Getting that first draft down and THEN diving into revisions just seems to make more sense. Unfortunately, the things we do in life don’t always make sense.


To top all that off we have the word perfection to contend with. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble but this perfectionism some of us strive for is only a figment of our imaginations. For some reason we think that we should be the judge of what is perfect and what is not, when we all have our own standards as to what we judge as perfect. Why do we assume that our opinion is the only one that counts? Will we ever find that perfect we’re looking for? Maybe, if perfect was something we could pick up and hold in our arms, maybe cuddle close to, something that any dang idiot could look at and recognize like a tree or a flower or a rock. But perfect isn’t any of these things. Perfect is a notion that we carry around in our heads. And unlike a rock or tree, my perfect is going to look a lot different from yours. So who gets to decide whose perfect is the right one? Danged if I know.


What I do know is this; eventually, we have to let go of our work if we ever plan to see it published. No matter how we want to polish our words, making them bright and shiny, eventually we’ll be left with nothing but a dull shine as we rub, rub, rub away that original brilliance. Will it ever be perfect? I guess we’re the only ones who can judge that.


Are you a perfectionist? Do you agree with John Updike that Perfection is the enemy of creation?

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  1. At first I thought I was the best writer in my region. Then, as I grew up, I thought I was okay. Now I just want to learn so that I can get better.

    Perfection was definitely my enemy when I started. Not only did it narrow my vision; it stopped me from progressing. I wanted to make perfect art or no art at all.

    • Hi Joe, Thanks for dropping in and for your comment. Certainly our attitude change over time. I do believe the need to “make perfect art” would restrict us to the point where we would squash our creativity like a bug. It’s something I need to keep a watch out for in my own work.

  2. Oh, yes! I totally agree with him. I also know the truth of your statement that in search of perfection “…eventually we’ll be left with nothing but a dull shine as we rub, rub, rub away that original brilliance.” Knowing and adopting that reality, however…? When it comes to revisions, I’m still rubbing to the point of needing some silver polish to bring back the sheen!

    We’re on a similar wave length right now as I have a post scheduled for tomorrow on struggling to find the right words for a particular project. I have to get busy and just write, to give Ms. Muse some raw material to work with. ;)

    • I agree, Carol, knowing something and putting it into practice are two different things. It takes time to undo what we’ve been doing for so long. They say recognizing the problem is the first step.. ;)

  3. I think perfection can be the enemy of creation, but is not always the case. In a blog post not so long ago I remarked that at my times my own perfectionism can be a form of procrastination.

    Laura, I write a first draft wihout looking back at all. I write a first draft without any sort of thought of all. I don’t think I have any advantage by doing so at all, and the way I see it writers who do it like you make sense to me. I guess the other side is always greener.

    The editing process me for sounds like what you describe. It’s slow, and I play a lot with words, order, etc, and when editing, yes, I strive for perfection. My definition of it for that piece at that moment. I want it the best that I can make it. That said, I know it won’t be perfect, perfection doesn’t exist. It’ll just be as perfect as I can make it.

    • I’m sure you’re right, Jennifer, the grass is often greener. It always seemed to me that getting that first draft down was all important. I hate staying stuck, although I’ll admit when I have more time to ponder a story, new ideas come while I;m waiting to go forward.

      All we can do is make something the best we feel we are capable of producing. Eventually we have to be satisfied.

  4. Yes, perfection is the enemy of creation. I find if I don’t allow myself to go back and reread and correct, I get much more done and words fly out of my finger. When I finally do reread, I’m usually surprised at what I’ve written. I also agree that you can edit the life (or shine) right out of a story. I’ve read stories like that; they are missing enthusiasm, that energy created by the first draft.

    • I hate taking a story too far and losing that lovely shine. When that happens I just have to wait it out and hope it’s not a lost cause. It’s a fine balance we aim for, but certainly one that is attainable.

  5. I am a perfectionist and I realize that its an impediment to creativity. Letting go is something I had to learn and continue to learn as I continue my journey as a writer. :-)

    • The journey is one filled with many lessons, and thankfully we learn and move onward. Letting go is becomes easier as we allow ourselves to have faith in what we’re doing. :)

  6. If you are not creative to a fault, then you cannot be a fiction writer. The perfectionist in the rewrite is what will make the story what it is..

    What I have just said sounds like the perfect writer because it is. I struggle with the perfectionist when I am trying to be creative one and the creative one when I am just trying to mold my first draft into a best seller.

    Good food for thought as usual, Laura.


  7. I think I might be a recovering perfectionist. Perfectionism is the main reason I have not accomplished much yet in my writing, or not followed through on things to the point of doing my all in whatever it is. I need help! Okay, my name is Lynn …

    • lol! Lynn, even work I thidk is finished and is sent out doesn’t always end up being finished. If I receive a rejection with some feedback I take a closer lok and decide it the story needs more more. Sometimes yes, sometimes no…Editors always have suggestions (thank goodness) to help us make our work even better.
      Admitting there’s a problem is the very first step. ;)

  8. He makes a good point. You can polish until you take the golden finish off the orb. Then what do you have? Better to let some imperfections shine through, they are after all the true nature of your voice :)

    • Well said, Florence. I think I could very well drive myself bonkers by trying to make things perfect. It’s got to be good, but perfect? Na.

  9. I once read that “things don’t have to perfect, things need to get done” It changed my life. I posted it on my bulletin board and wrote the damn book. Procrastion by perfection had been stopping me from meeting my goals.

    • Oh yeah, trying to make something perfect is the best way NOT to get it done. You’re SO right, Darlene. Thanks!

  10. I agree with the quote. Yes, I’m a perfectionist (in some areas). Housework isn’t one of them…

  11. syr ruus

     /  June 20, 2012

    I think you owe it to your work, to yourself and to others to make anything you do as good as you can, otherwise, what’s the point. That isn’t the same as making it “perfect.” As you point out, Laura, “perfect” only exists as a conception of the ideal, and ideals have always been argued over.

    • Yes, I agree. While we don’t want to slap just anything down on paper and send it off, neither do we want to edit for the rest of our lives. What’s odd is that we see different things in our work each time we go back to it, and what we think is our best work one month might still end up being tweaked.

      • syr ruus

         /  June 21, 2012

        That’s why it so nice to get published — finally, no more tweaking.

  12. Julie

     /  June 20, 2012

    I am definitely a perfectionist. I rewrite more than I write. It’s probably why I’m not very prolific these days. But I do like to prune paragraphs, replace words, and rework sentences until they seem just right. It’s hard to explain how I know. I just know. And when it’s right, it’s very rewarding.

    Thank goodness for blogging, though. It’s the one realm of writing in which I just write and publish without holding back and rewriting and rewriting. I think of it as perfection therapy.

    • Yes blogging is totally different. I wouldn’t be blogging at all if I had to spend as much time editing a blog post as what I do a story.. Although, someone from facebook pointed out to me that I’d left an “s” off a word in my post so maybe I SHOULD spend more!

  13. I know I wasted a lot of time switching words and phrases, striving for perfection, only later on to eliminate the entire scene. Blessings to you, Laura…

    • That does happen Carol Ann, but if it has to go it has to go. Writing can be brutal. Nice yo have you visit, and I love the new profile pic…a thoughtful pose..rather writerly, don’t you think?

  14. I would much prefer to be “perfectly imperfect” but I must admit sometimes I am a perfectist. I keep tweaking something until it is supposedly perfectly but a closer look says otherwise. but it doesn’t hurt to stride for that perfection even if you’ll never reach it. just like that quote – “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” I actually prefer to be among the stars anyway.

    • “Perfectly imperfect” I like the sound of that Lissa! I suppose as long as we realize that perfection is an ideal we’re fine to work hard at making our work the best we can..And I love that quote!

  15. If striving for perfection takes the heart and soul out of a piece of writing, I’m quite willing to have a flawed piece of writing. Course, I say that, yet in the past I’ve done somersaults trying to find the perfect words for my scenes. Go figure. I think as writers we have to listen to that inner voice. It’s there for a reason.

    • Somesaultts sound interesting.. :) Eventually it comes down to us, doesn’ it? and our ability to know what needs to be done with the piece we’re working on.

  16. You have covered this topic thoroughly. It is a character defect to always expect perfection from others I think, but not unreasonable to expect effort and a job well done. I am a perfectionist too but have toned it down to always doing the best job I can and leave it at that. It’s called craftsmanship.


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