The Four Horsemen of Writing: Perfectionism

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This one is definitely the sneakiest of the horsemen.  It can undo an author without ever being noticed.  That’s because we can see it as a positive trait when it can really be the main obstacle in our path.  A demon disguised as an angel, which can destroy an author before they even get to their first draft.


I’ve met many authors who pride themselves on going for perfection.  Can’t think of any of them who made it very far.  There are probably some, but most crash and burn.  The reason is because perfectionism is impossible.  An author will always find a flaw in their work because of doubt and us being our own worst critics.  Even after publishing, an author will see how they could have done something better.  Those who try to avoid this fate will succumb to fear, which masks itself as perfectionism.  As I said, they pride themselves on this to the point where they refuse to accept that it might be what is holding them back.

Perfectionism can take many forms too:

  • It can be an author who is determined to be 100% original.  Every time they are told or see something that is even remotely like their story, they scrap it all and start anew.  It creates a cycle that can only end when they realize everything can be connected to something that already exists.
  • They might hate where the story is going because the characters don’t fit the established plot points, so they keep working on it until it’s a mess.  That mess is a blot on their perfectionism, but they refuse to change their path.  So, they keep digging themselves deeper into the hole until they give up.
  • Others get hung up on developing the perfect style, so they constantly read ‘how to’ books.  They watch videos, read articles, and go to seminars to develop a style, but it never feels right.  They adopt whatever they are told will work in the hopes of unlocking the key to success.  These authors may never get to even an outline much less a story because nothing seems to be 100% to them.
  • Another type of perfectionist is one who doesn’t make it out of the planning stage.  It is similar to the first one in that they are trying to design the perfect world with the perfect characters.  They may have stories outlined, but they won’t move on until they have their entire world flushed out.  It is possible, but the chances are higher that it will always fall short.  Why?  Because fictional worlds and characters do need some type of organic growth, which comes from the first draft and proceeding edits.  Otherwise, they’re really only theories and potentials.

I’ll admit that I never suffered from this horseman, but it’s here because I’ve seen so many fall to its power.  Let’s hear it for my anxiety and battered self-esteem!  Don’t clap too loud on that one.

So . . . Question time!

  1. Have you ever found yourself held back by perfectionism?
  2. Do you think it’s a lofty goal or a dangerous path?
  3. What would you do or think to avoid this horseman?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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16 Responses to The Four Horsemen of Writing: Perfectionism

  1. L. Marie says:

    1. You have the most interesting posts! I can definitely see how perfectionism is crippling. Great points on that. I mostly hamper myself by avoiding writing or doubting what I write. As an editor, I sometimes find myself trying to be “perfect” when I edit someone else’s manuscript, because I want that person’s manuscript to shine and I’m getting paid by the publisher 😄. However, many times I have looked back on margin comments and discovered typos. So perfection is not happening here. 😄😄😄
    2. It seems to be a dangerous path, one that ultimately will damage the person. I’ve known people so crippled by it that they could barely write anything—which is not good if you have a pressing deadline.
    3. I try to examine what’s underlying that desire—like wanting to avoid rejection or be superior to everyone else. But even a “perfect” manuscript isn’t rejection proof. Case in point: the one-star reviews on Amazon (I know some were written by trolls). I’ve seen Pultizer Prize-winning authors get one-star reviews. You can’t please everyone!


  2. 1) Have you ever found yourself held back by perfectionism?
    I am a perfectionist, out of commitment to my art. Also I think it makes a better impression on the prospective editor if the manuscript isn’t riddled with errors. However, there is always a voice in my head telling me, “you should be…” Fill in the blank. Should be writing. Should be submitting. Should be promoting. So eventually “should be submitting” will get to me.

    2)Do you think it’s a lofty goal or a dangerous path?
    Lofty goal for me. I just realize that it takes more than one try to get the words in line. Revision is my friend.

    3)What would you do or think to avoid this horseman?
    I let my impatience take over and chastise myself to just finish the story!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I strive for perfectionism in terms of grammar and syntax while accepting flexibility for the purposes of style. I avoid perfectionism by avoiding publishers’ reps who have their views of perfectionism (mind you, there was a time, decades ago when I was in this for the money that never came), and I am able to re-read my novels thru the eyes of a first time reader—if it’s an engaging read there’s no need to worry about perfectionism.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Since I am the opposite of a perfectionist, I have never found myself held back by perfectionism. I think it is a perilous path for a writer or any profession. Gods can be perfect, but humans are flawed. For a writer, it can lead to no productivity at all.
    I avoid this horseman by being imperfect and never aspiring to perfection.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. V.M.Sang says:

    Reading too many books (and websites) is how I succumb to this horseman.
    I think, if taken to extremes, as you suggest, it is dangerous, but only because the work will never be published.
    I refuse to read my own books because I know I’ll want to alter so many things. I’ve grown as a writer with each book, I think, and with my greater knowledge and experience, I know there will be things there that make me cringe.


  6. This one makes sense, but isn’t my poison. My stories are imperfect and I admit it. I try to improve, of course. I fall more in Doubt’s wheelhouse.


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