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