How to Sidestep Perfectionism and Rediscover Joy in Writing

I haven’t worked seriously on a picture book for years.

Although I do fine during the planning and conceptualization phases, perfectionism kicks in as soon as I actually start to try to write the text. My inner critic gets a front row seat, where she can peer over my shoulder, megaphone in hand, and shout warnings at me. “That rhyme is boring!” “The rhythm’s shaky!” “Your word choice isn’t original or evocative!” –and so on and so on.

If I slip up and give her any attention at all, my inner critic starts in on the big picture criticisms. Your story concept is unoriginal—you’re not really a picture book writer—you freeze up when you try to write poetry—so why are you wasting time here?


But I figured out how to sidestep my inner critic and her megaphone. I don’t try to shut her out or argue or contradict her — I just smile and nod and keep on writing, because none of the criticisms actually apply. You see, I’m writing in pretty colors on unlined paper, which isn’t really writing. And I’m not writing a PICTURE BOOK; I’m simply playing with words, creating long lists and fitting together lines like so many puzzle pieces.

Besides, half the time I’m “working” in my PJs, curled up in bed with a cup of hot chai. How serious can it be?

By using this technique, and limiting the amount of time I’m “allowed” to work on my story, I’ve made it so that my mind can’t stop playing around with ideas. Phrases pop into my head while I’m walking the dog or relaxing in the hot tub. And despite two days when a virus pretty much knocked me out of commission, I’ve drafted half the story in the past week. Is it perfect? No! But it’s a solid start, the sort I might be able to revise into something actually worth submitting someday.

Does perfectionism get in your way when you’re trying to write?

It’s tempting to tackle perfectionism head on. We become self-analytical, searching for cognitive distortions and, when we find them, arguing about them with our perfectionistic alter egos.

I think that this sort of self-analysis and deep thinking can be helpful—but it can also create an unwanted distraction that prevents you from writing.

After all, if you’re journaling about cognitive distortions, black-and-white thinking, and unrealistic expectations, you’re not writing your story. If the “goal” of perfectionism is to avoid criticism or rejection, then doesn’t that mean perfectionism wins?

The unwritten story can’t be rejected…but it can’t be read, either.

Sometimes the most effective way to deal with perfectionism is simply to sidestep its spotlight–so you can get on with writing. I’ve put together four tips I’ve found particularly helpful. Tip #1 is below, and I’ll post the remaining three next week. Try them on for size and see if you can’t get your inner critic to turn her attention elsewhere!

Tip #1: Reframe Writing as Playing

Reframing how you think about your writing can help you banish expectations. If you’re just playing around, there’s no reason to worry about what you produce or how good it is, right?

This is one of the best ways I know to silence your inner critic.

I help myself view writing as playing by changing up things like where, when, and how I write. I pull out clean sheets of bright white paper and brightly colored markers. I create a comfy, relaxed space to create, surrounded by dogs on the bed or sofa.

Here are a few ideas for how to recapture that mindset:

  1. Write at an unusual time.
  2. Write in a different location.
  3. Wear different clothes.
  4. Surround yourself with objects that inspire or make you remember childhood.
  5. Write using different tools, especially tools that encourage whimsy and delight.

For you, playtime might look entirely different. Your goal is to recapture a child’s pure delight in creation–you know, that feeling you had in elementary school when you made up stories for your own pleasure with no thought of trying to gain anyone else’s approval.

Take a few minutes to daydream what “writing play” might look like for you!

Did you find this post helpful? Subscribers can access the full list of tips right away!
Click here to download your FREE PDF of tips to help YOU sidestep perfectionism and get rolling on your work-in-progress!

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  1. says

    I’m totally with you on perfectonism squashing the creativity. I’ve been letting that (and an outline) kill my WIP. No more.

    • says

      YAY! Perfectionists unite against perfectionism! At least, against our OWN :). I wish you much joy and inspiration as you return to your WIP.

  2. says


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