1. The Nightingale
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    The Nightingale New Member

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    Self-doubts holding me back

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by The Nightingale, Oct 21, 2010.

    I’m a young writer (only eighteen) and I do it primarily as a hobby for now - although it’s something that I would be interested in pursuing in the future. So far I’ve had a few articles published - three in a young people’s magazine and one on a well-known movie blog. I have also interviewed an author who I admire and entered (and won) a few writing competitions. I would really like to add to this resume and get a few more pieces published.

    My main issue is that I’m a total perfectionist - in every aspect of my life. Unfortunately this stretches over to work and I have a desire to make everything as perfect as it can possibly be. I realise that this is good, in some respects, as I’m always pushing myself to work harder and harder. And yet, at the same time, I feel it’s holding me back because I never have the courage to submit anything for publication. My main concern is what if it does get published, but it’s not as good as it could be? How will I feel if I look back on it in twenty years and find it terrible? At my age, I feel I’m changing as a writer all the time and what seemed good to me last year, seems atrocious this year.

    I only entered the writing competitions because my parents practically forced me to (they’re not pushy parents in the slightest, but they know I’d never have entered of my own volition.) On the one hand I tend to think that I must at least be decent enough as a writer to be published by those that have printed my work. On the other hand, however, my insecurities come back at me - the fact that I’m only eighteen and know that I could improve so much in years to come; the fact that I know I may look back and cringe at my work in a few years. But in doing so, I am also holding myself back and missing some potentially great opportunities. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.

    Is there any way of getting out of this negative frame of mind? I know that I will always be a perfectionist in some ways (it’s behavioural,) but I need to find a way to break the cycle so that my self-doubt won’t hold me back any longer.

    Replies appreciated.
     
  2. Ganman3
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    Ganman3 Member

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    You know, it's funny. I read your post, and wondered, "Did I maybe post under this username and simply forget?" When it doubt though, you simply look at the time stamp. Unless I was rendered unconscious seventeen minutes ago and my hand was simply possessed and acting on its own accord, I couldn't have posted this.
    This is something I still go through, and still struggle with somewhat. You see, I'm a horrible perfectionist too. I write... or wrote... news stories, and still write poetry from time to time, yet I won't publish, so I'm working on a side project instead. That side project won't see the light of day, under international copyright laws (it's sort of a spin on fanfiction,) but then writing makes me happy, so I'm doing it anyway.
    I've been stuck in the same rut you're in though. I didn't quite know my style until recently, and simply wrote, wrote, and rewrote until something was perfect... and even then, I had maybe a page of work that I never picked up again, simply because it was too much of a hassle to keep that perfection going. So I had a perfect page? I just figured I'd screw that up.
    You and I have similar writing styles as well... almost identical, in fact. I guess I'd say I was right where you were two years ago. I won various awards throughout high school for my poetry, took first in state in news writing... etc. The fact was that I had ridiculous expectations for myself.
    That desire for perfection goes away, or at least compromises itself, enough that you can work. You probably won't have the same mindset in a month that you do now.
    Wil Wheaton, who portrayed a character in Star Trek and the Guild, had some nice advice. At first, what you write will always be crap. Then you allow yourself to revise it, and it becomes something worthwhile. You can find the link here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lxs9k1MsrmE
    The point is that I realized that nothing I write will ever be perfect, and that I'm not going to write the next Great American Novel just by sitting still (though I'm not sure I still have that dream.) I can't will myself to write the greatest thing ever- different people will see what you write differently.
    I can tell you, however, that your fear is probably irrational, since mine was too. I was a good writer, even if I didn't see it, and still doubt myself more often than not. As long as you exercise that desire for perfection with decisive moderation, your work will never be terrible.
    You know what you're doing. Give it time. The desire to write something worthwhile will drive you to write just that, but you need to be patient. Write well and often, but write for yourself for now. Maybe what you write for yourself will be so good that you won't even have to think about the publishers... some of the best stuff I've written I did without thinking about it.
     
  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am vehemently anti-perfectionism. Unfortunately, I'm _so_ anti-perfectionism that I suspect that I have trouble even speaking a language that a perfectionist can understand. Many times, I've deliberately misquoted the old saying to be, "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing badly."

    And that's absolutely my belief. Skills are developed by taking risks and pushing your ability. And taking risks and pushing your ability means that occasional mediocre performance or even failure is not only possible, but _likely_. And that's good. If you fail occasionally, you're pushing yourself enough to grow.

    So, sure, what you write today won't be as good as what you write in twenty years. If you looked back after twenty years and _didn't_ see how much you'd grown and improved, wouldn't you be disappointed? That difference doesn't need to be a source of shame ("Look! When I was a beginner I wrote like a beginner! Woe!") - it should be a source of pride. ("Wow, I am _so_ much better now.")

    If you spend those twenty years trying, and stretching, and sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding, you're going to be much better at the end than you would have been if you'd spent them nervously polishing everything to the point that you never make a move.

    Is there any chance that it would help to have a sort of "middle ground" level of committment? For example, you could start a blog, and have the experience of releasing your writing to the whole world, regularly. You could submit pieces to the Review Room here. You could go out of your way to get more people to view your writing in a less-than-complete state, and experience that it didn't hurt as badly as you thought it would.

    Because I would bet that a lot of the problem is fear - that your fear of how you'd feel if you were caught in imperfection, is probably worse than the actual experience would be. But you can't find out until you actually have - even _embrace_ - the experience.

    There's a book about perfectionism, called _Too Perfect_, that I've often seen recommended. I don't know if it would be helpful, but it probably couldn't hurt.

    ChickenFreak
     
  4. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    You learn a thousand times more from a failure than you learn from a success. Perfectionism is a curse. Get a pen-name and go wild, making all the mistakes you can, incognito.
     
  5. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    Actually, that's a great idea, and that's how I found confidence as a writer. I always wanted to write from when I was in high school, but didn't write anything till I was 30 because I always thought what I write won't be good enough. Then I started blogging anonymously and the response I got took me by surprise. I even got offers to write articles from major magazines. Now, I am making up for the lost time and I am writing as much as I can. How I wish now I started writing in high school, because, then I would have become a much better writer than I am today.
     
  6. helltank
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    helltank Member

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    I've never had self-doubt before... some of my friends say it's the other extreme. Now, the whole story is complicated, including mistaken beliefs of immortality and such, so I won't bog you down with the details. However, my tactic for countering self doubt is to think,"So what if they hate my story. They can deal with it." This is usually followed by visions of sunglasses sliding over someone's eyes, and one thing leads to another, ending with me laughing and resuming my story.
     
  7. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    Hi the Nightingale. This is exactly how I felt months ago. I felt so lost, unsure, and I doubted myself every step I took to get back to writing. Every attempt I made just didn't seem good enough. Every idea that popped into my head didn't seem stream-lined enough. I kept trying to just put my pen down on the paper, but found myself completely incapacitated by perfectionism.

    But amazingly, my fears went away. Joining this forum has helped me to become less timid. I've pushed aside all those crazy thoughts in my head, pushed aside my own feelings of being inexperienced, and pursued on.

    By your resume, I can see you’re better off than me. I had not such guts to enter into competitions or post articles to blogs. You’ve got experience, and knack for this. Don’t give up. Just when you feel like you can’t go on any further, that’s when inspiration will strike and carry you off into another great direction :D

    Keep writing!
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    tell your doubting self to 'shut up!' and just keep on writing...
     
  9. Idearella
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    Idearella New Member

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    Blogging is a great place to start. Anonymously or not. The best part - you can see your growth. Even stuff I posted a few months ago is flaming garbage compared to the stuff I turn out now. And I'm pretty sure what I'm doing now I'll see as flaming garbage in a year.

    You start when you start. No sense in beating yourself up, Manav. You probably are ramping up faster and in a totally different direction than if you had done it in HS.

    Know how you have to run water in the tub for a while after you've been on vacation for a couple of weeks? That gets out all the brown stuff so you can have good water.

    Writers have brown stuff in their writing, too. If you don't write, though, you can't purge the brown.

    Get out there, Nightingale, and start writing. Get the brown out!
     
  10. erik martin
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    erik martin Contributing Member

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    Submit the stuff. If it gets published--great. Even so, yes you might look back on it twenty years from now and think it's crap. It might not be, but you might have changed as a writer and person, or maybe it will be crap in your opinion. But perfection is almost never achieved. Accept that. With writing, there is no real consensus on what is perfection either. So submit if you feel it is good enough. The only way to grow is to get out of your comfort zone.
     
  11. Noya Desherbanté
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    Noya Desherbanté Senior Member

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    You're published... and that's already amazing! As another young writer (only a year off from you haha...!) I can say, I don't know how long you've been writing for, but look at stuff you produced when you first started out. Unless you are an absolute genius and perfected your technique from Day 2, you will think it's of a lesser quality than what you (albeit slowly) produce now. When I read back over a freshly-composed page and feel like the dog's dinner, I pull out a MS I completed when I was fourteen. One-sided characterisation, despicable grammar and non-existent plot seem painfully obvious now, but back then, I literally thought it was wonderful, so wonderful in fact to ship it off to Scholastic and (oh my DAYS!) Oxford University Press for consideration... needless to say I'm not an embittered old celeb now... but the funny thing is, I can't remember polishing it that much. Yes I sat down every night and read through it, changing words here and there, but I cannot remember a point when even my fourteen year-old self looked at the mess and envisioned a floating Nobel Prize for Literature...

    My rather rambling point is, just don't perfect. Send in an imperfect submission, something you're pleased with but still think needs more work, and see what happens/absorb critique. It sounds like you may have a great reputation already but fortunately, we're young enough for as many comebacks as we need :p
     
  12. UberNoodle
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    UberNoodle Senior Member

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    Perfectionism is a curse I suffer from as well. In all my creative endevours I have tended to let it get the better of me. With painting and music at least, I let myself finish before tearing it to shreds and starting again, seldom on the same thing, though. With writing, I find it hard to endure the perfectionist's voice. All I can say, as a sufferer, is to differentiate between perfectionism for your own sake, and perfectionism due to what you perceive are others' expectations. Screw them. You will probably never meet them, and half of them are just grazers, suffering the same doubts that they put on others, intentionally or not. If you can seperate those, you can transform your perfectionism for self into a good work ethic and a willingness to go the extra mile to achieve what you want. That's what I'm forcing myself to do, but it's hard. What's that thing about the multiple "I"s? There's the one that is YOU, but there is also the one that you THINK others SEE as you. There is also the one that you wish to PROJECT to others. Those last two are dengerous to creativity. The first one says, "they'll all hate it!", the other one says, "Oh that's too showing too much of me!".
     
  13. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    Okay, no regrets... just do it :)
     

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