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Thursday, 17 September 2015

Perfectionism: a curse or a necessity? By Claire Musters


I sighed as my son sat in front of me sobbing. It was an all too-familiar scenario. He was practising his drum homework for the first time since a long break in the summer holidays and he couldn’t play it immediately so fell apart. The anger, frustration and sadness that emanated from him were the same as I experience regularly with his sister. Having played the piano for a couple of years, she has soared through her first exam. And yet, even though she knows the drill by now, those first few days with a new piece are full of the same angst. She, in particular, is a perfectionist and finds it immensely irritating if she can’t achieve something straight away. So having to learn and practise pieces is good for her – and difficult for me…

As my son was in full-on meltdown in front of me my heart sank. I remember saying in my head: ‘please Lord not another one whose perfectionism will have to be dealt with day by day’. But then I started thinking about the perfectionist streak inside of me. Is it a blessing or a curse as a writer?

I am very aware of the importance of crafting words, of not settling for the first set of sentences that come tapping out onto the keyboard. And yet, as we search for those elusive perfect sentences, might we also, at times, be sucking the life out of our creativity? There is a balance to be struck between always wanting to make our work better and never allowing ourselves to settle, to believe we have the best finished work we could possibly produce.

Of course, even when we think we are finished, any perfectionist tendencies can also be floored by the editing process – that humbling moment when someone else’s eyes spot things yours haven’t or the editor suggests a slightly different approach, which necessitates yet more revisions.

I think that, personally, it is absolutely vital to have that drive behind me to create as well as I can. I do recognise, however, that the perfectionism inside of me can make it hard at certain moments in the creating process – but it does push me to explore where my writing can go.

Being a perfectionist can be hard during the pitching processes – especially when you think you have a great idea for a book or article but no one else seems to agree with you! That’s the humbling moment that you have to agree that perhaps it wasn’t the perfect idea and either change tack or change idea completely!


So what do you think? Are you aware of how perfectionism tendencies are played out in your writing processes? Do you find them helpful or hindering?

Claire is a freelance writer and editor, mum to two gorgeous young children, pastor’s wife, worship leader and school governor. Claire’s desire is to help others draw closer to God through her writing, which focuses on marriage, parenting, worship, discipleship, issues facing women today etc. Her books include Taking your Spiritual Pulse, CWR’s Insight Guide: Managing Conflict and BRF Foundations21 study guides on Prayer and Jesus. She also writes a regular column for Christian Today. To find out more about her, please visit www.clairemusters.com and @CMusters on Twitter.

3 comments:

  1. I always called myself a perfectionist in my writing - and then I handed my book over to a professional proofreader and she found all the inconsistencies. So ... not such a perfectionist then. Or maybe just in my imagination!

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  2. Yes. I have the daughter who shouts at her keyboard when she gets a new piece of music and I am devastated when a published blog post is revealed to have a typo. At the moment I'm completely stalled from writing my novel because I so, so want it to be good, and I don't know if I'm capable of it on several levels. Is that perfectionism?

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  3. I can also relate to these comments. I play keyboard, have just begun to teach myself guitar, am writing my second book and I am an administrator. In all aspects of my life I am a perfectionist. I often find it is a hindrance, but I cannot help but strive to to and be the best I can be. When 'it' goes wrong I shout at 'it', sadly the only purpose that serves is to wind me up and make it go even more wrong!

    Then the typos after publication...The one that drove several of us to distraction was when we produced our Christmas carol Booklet. I lost count of how many people proof read it and in the first carol we sang about the "angles". As soon as we got to that line, I looked up at the vicar and we both shook our heads. I was so mad with myself!

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