Craft Quote #7 – Why Perfectionism Killed Your Story

If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word. – Margaret Atwood

The first draft of anything is shit. – Ernest Hemingway

These quotes come at a time when I’m making several revisions to a short story from four or five months ago. Last week I was eager to edit. I got the story out of my desk, edited the first paragraph thirty-odd times, then stuffed the papers back in the drawer deciding my time would be best spent job hunting – I’d worked five months and produced excrement, and worst of all, at one point I’d actually thought it was good. I was suffering from two things all writers go through at one point or another; a disconnect from my work because so much time had passed since the last edit, and feeling stagnated because I was editing my story with the aim of perfecting it.

As writers, we’re all guilty of trying to make our stories perfect because we have a particular message we want to convey, but what is perfection anyway? When does refining become a vice?

Writing is art; personal and an expression of self, so is constantly evolving and is impossible to perfect, so why are so many of us aiming for the impossible? The idea of what makes a flawless story changes as often as our minds do. Constantly judging your writing in pursuit of perfection ends in frustration and chasing your creativity down a hole to writer’s block.

Perfectionism puts a wrench in your writing mojo so, why do we spend so many weeks, months, and years editing and re-editing, in pursuit of it? I think the greatest reason is fear. Writing is incredibly personal, even when you’re not writing about something personal. You write, edit, pour hours into a story and wonder what people will say when they read your work. What will my friends/family think? Will my editor like it? What if no one gets what I’m trying to do? All of these questions rise up and choke the life out of creativity.

Aiming to write a well though-out, clear, soul-filled story is a good thing, but writing for perfection is a hindrance on creativity and productivity, because you’ll be editing with no end in sight.

Some ways I deal with my occasionally overcritical eye are to

  • Try not judging work while in the middle of writing it. Save judgement for later drafts, the first one is just a place to get your ideas onto paper (or screen). Think of creating your story like painting; start with broader strokes and then go back to refine, not perfect.
  • Write first and foremost for you, not any potential readers you think may be out there.
  • Set realistic deadlines to complete work. If you like to keep track of projects in stages; set a deadline to complete your outline, then a first draft, and so on. Having a set time to finish leaves no space for endless edits.

Chasing perfection hurts the creative process, but is something all writers (even the ones you admire and can do no wrong) struggle with. Next time you find you’ve micro-edited a paragraph for the umpteenth time, take a break then come back to the work with a mindset of writing without judgement, and free of the worry that someone is looking over your shoulder.

Do you find yourself struggling for perfection, or leaning on any other vices that stop you from writing? How are some ways you combat the need to aim for perfect writing? How long do you work on a project before deciding enough is enough? Let me know in the comments!

Creative Havens for Writers


Los Angeles is often incorrectly identified as the creative land of milk and honey. Los Angeles, for many, is the place to be if you’re one of hundreds of thousands with hopes of “making it”. But if you actually reside here you know this is a myth created by people who do not live here, and upheld by those that do. And if you’re a writer you know that unless you’re in the business of writing screenplays, jobs, inspiration, and venues that offer workshops and community are limited.

In this list is you will find gems in Los Angeles that feature a variety of talented writers, celebrate the craft, and work to provide a great community. Whether you are a poet, fiction writer, essayist, or singer you will be inspired (and eventually be the one to inspire) for next to nothing. Don’t live in Los Angeles? Don’t fret, some of these havens are available to stream via podcast and their social media, here is a taste of what is waiting to be heard.

Da Poetry Lounge, every Tuesday at 9pm.

For the poetically inclined; expect finger snapping and spoken word on sexism, racism, sexual assault, sexuality, cultural issues, and current events.

Located in the auditorium of a middle school, Da Poetry Lounge is a humble spot where writers spill their souls. It is said that those who leave without a sense of inspiration probably weren’t paying attention – or are dead inside. This open mic night focuses on poetry and music but with that being said, stories are stories. Regardless of what kind of storytelling you specialize in, a lot can be gained from hearing someone tell theirs – and at $5 for a four hour long show it’s a steal. Da Poetry Lounge claims to be the largest open mic night in the nation, the auditorium (as well as any available stage space besides a slice for the speaker to stand) is filled to capacity every show. If you want to get a seat, arrive early. If you want to sign up to share your own work, arrive absurdly early.

Beyond Baroque, check calendar for events.

A mixed bowl of creativity; free, donation-based, and paid events for less than a movie ticket. Expect workshops, poetry readings, art exhibits, and author readings.

Beyond Baroque is one of the nation’s largest literary centers. There is a real community feel as readings take place in an intimate room and alcoholic beverages are available for a donation. Perfect to get those creative juices flowing. Numerous writers have spoken on this stage before hitting their stride and becoming well known such as Patti Smith, Dennis Cooper, and Tom Waits. And if you’re still yearning for inspiration there is a used bookstore inside with a huge selection to choose from.

ALOUD reading series, check calendar for events.

The literature lover’s TED talk, with most sessions offered for free (but RSVP quickly as they fill up fast).

ALOUD is a summer long literary series of readings, interviews, and conversations that take place in Downtown Central Library. Although this is a seasonal series the organizers make the most of the time available by packing the entire summer full of events. Some upcoming talks are PEN Emerging Voices: A Reading, Why We Write, and Homegoing: A Novel, a conversation with author Yaa Gyasi. I will be attending this one specifically, and just ordered her book. During this series you can be in a room full of writers and learn from published authors about their process of the craft, little else could be more inspiring.

The Moth Story, check calendar for events.

Expect a diverse crowd and stories you have never heard before, told to make you laugh, cry, and see the unification of the human experience through storytelling.

These stories range between 5 and 20 minutes long and although tickets for the live show cost upwards of $39, listening to these stories online is free (all the better for us starving writers) and just as gripping. The writers read on stage with no notes which gives a certain authenticity, and with each speaker raised in various cultural backgrounds and livelihoods you will not hear any repetition in style or tone.

Now go! Be inspired. It is true, the best thing a writer can do to improve their skill is write, but the magic that comes from hearing someone else’s story from a perspective completely separate from your own, and being in a room full of people who enjoy stories, can be the inspiration we need to approach our work with new eyes.

Do you have any literary centers you enjoy going to for inspiration? What other methods do you use to gain inspiration? Have you been to any of these venues? Let me know in the comments below!