{WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE GETTING WORSE} let’s talk perfectionism

picture from pinterest

To be completely honest, I’ve been cringing over this very phrase for the past month:

what if I’m getting worse?

 In April, I wrote the second novel in my trilogy, Outcast. I can honestly believe that I was having a really good streak when writing that book. I can go back and read it and, for the first time, feel happy with my writing, knowing that it is good. It’s not all good, obviously, but it’s not all bad, and when you get to that point, you feel like you’re flying. I think we all have one bit of writing — even if it’s only a sentence — which we feel is at least decent enough.

Coming off that really high note, I went in to rewrite the first novel (and now I’ll have to rewrite the second, but that’s a different story). It was going well. I talked about how the plot was working thanks to my outlining method in my newsletter. But then there was my prose.

Last week, I was preparing the first 10 pages of that novel to send off for a professional critique, and started getting so frustrated. My words seemed  a w e f u l. Sure, the opening chapter did what it needed to do, but did it even sound decent? Was it just a droning sludge of words? Compared to my favorite paragraphs in the second book, it felt horrible.

What had happened to me? It was like I was getting… worse. Becoming a worse writer.

And that was terrifying.

I think there’s a point when we think we’re seemingly not improving at all, and then there’s a point when we feel like we’re getting worse. And though I really dislike getting stuck in one place, I think the most scary thing is when you’re suddenly going downhill. It’s like you were there, and now you’re not.

Or are you?

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE GETTING WORSE.

STEP 1: BREATHE.
Stop looking at your writing. Seriously. Just quit it. You are not your writing. Your life is not your writing. There is more to you and your life than those words on the page. What if you feel like you’re horrible at everything? Stop. That isn’t possible. Those are lies.

STEP 2: DO SOMETHING TO GET BACK IN A GOOD SPACE.
Do something you really enjoy doing. Even if that’s writing, don’t you dare look at those words you hate. I chose to take the wrong step right here. Stubborn me wouldn’t let this go, so I ended up comparing those 10 pages to my favorite snippets from the sequel. It still worked out, but I should have let it go. So let it go. Give it to God. Take a break.


STEP 3: ADMIT IT.
Say it. Just say it. You hate your writing. You’re getting worse. Vent. Don’t deny this frustration. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past year, ignoring a problem doesn’t make it cease to exist.

So say it, but not to yourself. Talk to someone. This isn’t the time to go to some other person who’s going to critically analyze your writing. Go to someone you trust, someone who will be honest with you, but not brutal. Saying your problem out loud might end up making the whole thing look a lot smaller than you thought it was.

STEP 4: HAVE THEM READ IT.
That person, whoever you went to and vented on, have them read it. Maybe they’re your alpha reader. Or a critique partner. Or a friend. Just someone who has seen all different stages of your writing. Let them read that section you hate, maybe out loud. Better now?

Whatever you do, realize this:

YOU ARE NEVER AN ACCURATE JUDGE OF YOURSELF OR YOUR OWN WRITING
This. is. so. important. Proverbs tells us man should never praise himself with his own lips. As we know, we have a very contorted view of our faults and weaknesses. We cannot see ourselves clearly. We can in some things, but when it comes to strengths and weakness, it’s hard to accurately evaluate ourselves. 

The same goes for your writing.

You’ve been staring at this thing forever. You, as a writer, have trained yourself to look for only the faults, the things you need to fix. For that reason, especially if you’re doing a meticulous line-edit, you no longer have a clear view of your work. You need fresh eyes that can honestly point out the strengths and weakness and silence the inner voice screaming that your writing is worse than it used to be.

Don’t believe that voice. It’s a liar. You might know story structure and good prose, but you cannot completely, honestly make a perfect evaluation of yourself.

And that’s another thing:

STOP COMPARING YOURSELF AND YOUR WORK TO PERFECTION

MEASURE AGAINST WHAT YOU CAN REALISTICALLY DO
There’s no such thing as a perfect novel. Unfortunately, you are not a super-human writer who can  write perfectly. That is fake. So stop comparing yourself to this perfect writer in your mind.
Key word: compare. Perfectionism = comparing yourself to perfection. Which, when stated that bluntly, is obviously silly. If you, an imperfect person, are compared to perfection, of course you’re not going to measure up. 
So what about comparing yourself to what you did yesterday or last month?
Truth: You are not yesterday or last month. Different things are going on. Just because you wrote 5,000 words in an hour three months ago doesn’t mean you can today. Maybe you’re exhausted or busy or just trying to pay attention to your sentence structure. You are a growing, changing human being. You are always learning, even in failures and low points. As long as you just keep moving, you are accomplishing something.

In conclusion, I went through this whole ordeal to realizing that my writing style had just changed a little bit, while my understanding of story structure had grown. Which was awesome! I had just… overreacted and compared my writing to perfection (story of my life πŸ˜‰

So turn off that voice that compares your writing to perfection and go dive into that draft/edit/outline with knowledge that you are writing, so you are getting better.
<3
audrey caylin
So that was kind of a rant. xD Have you ever felt like you were getting worse? How do you quiet that voice that compares you to perfection?
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  • Reply
    Ivie B
    June 17, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    You're completely right about this. I am a perfectionist. I like getting things done right the first time and near perfection the first time, which we all know isn't going to be possible for everything. With my writing, I would often scrap it and start over.

    Finally, after writing a draft I liked, I took a month off. I didn't look at it, I didn't open it. I worked on side projects and little writing here and there to keep me busy and still writing. Then, a month passed and I opened the draft back up. I was able to see where I could add more detail, but I could also see that I was looking at the draft with clear eyes. I actually liked my writing and wanted to improve what I had instead of starting over.

    My advice when it comes to writing a novel is to take a month off after you finish the draft you really want to work on.

    This post was amazing and you really hit it on the head. We're never going to be perfect, so we should stop comparing ourselves to perfection.
    <3

  • Reply
    Melissa Gravitis
    June 17, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    Another awesome post, and so well put! You're completely right about perfectionism. I've been struggling with it for a number of years now in all aspects of my life, not only writing; I'm slowly starting to learn how to see past it and at the work I've actually done, not the perfect work I expect it to be. Having someone look at your writing can be so helpful when you're feeling down or frustrated. πŸ™‚ This was a great reminder for me, so thank you! <3

  • Reply
    Andrea
    June 17, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    THANK YOU FOR THIS ONCE AGAIN, AUDREY! I'm currently going through a really sucky writing burn-out and perfectionism is a huge struggle for me now.

    One thing that I like doing is rereading my super old drafts! Like, as in kiddy stories of mine that remind me that I'm continually improving with my writing, even though it isn't that obvious yet!! <3

    Step 3 is my absolute favorite! So many authors and writers talk about ignoring the nagging voice of perfectionism, but really, one technique is to actually surrender yourself and say, "Hey, it's not going to be perfect!" It's completely freeing sometimes.

    – andrea at a surge of thunder

  • Reply
    Savannah Grace
    June 17, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    Okay so this was one of the most powerful posts that I've EVER read and I HAVE NO WORDS. Thank you so so much for this, I desperately needed it. <3 <3 <3

    ~ Savannah @ Scattered Scribblings

  • Reply
    Karyssa Norton
    June 17, 2017 at 2:55 pm

    Thank you so so much for this Audrey!! I NEEDED this, especially since I'm rewriting my novel. There have been quite a few times when I've thought that I was getting worse, not better. And to be honest, it's kinda discouraging.

    I feel like a lot of writers tend to focus more on what's WRONG with their novel. I mean, yes, we should be looking for the places that we need to work on/improve. But I think that sometimes we focus so much on that, that we don't see the places where we've actually IMPROVED. I've done it many times. And as a result, we just think we're getting worse.

    Thankfully, I've found that when I get frustrated with things like this, it helps to just set it aside, pray about it/give it to God, and do something else for a while. Which is pretty much what you said to do. πŸ˜‰

    Again, thank you for this post. I will DEFINITELY be coming back to this while I rewrite my novel! πŸ™‚

  • Reply
    Anna
    June 17, 2017 at 3:00 pm

    Audrey. THANK YOU SO MUCH <3
    This has been on my mind for so long, it got to the point where I was like…what is going on! I just knew I was regressing, it was as clear as daylight. But the truth is everything happens for a reason, I've learned that writing in my case is not supposed to be a job. I cannot write when my heart doesn't have the words, I realized that's the secret to writing a good book. You write with your heart and then you come back with a clear worker's attitude and you edit. It's all about maintaining an open and positive attitude and working with love and above all writing for HIM. I ask myself a question when I write…
    If no one liked this book, would I still believe in it and love it the same?

    And if the answer is yes, then I know I'm doing well.

    Thank you so much Audrey again, this was so on point and much needed! xoxoxo Your points will be something I'll come back to. <3

    Love,

    Anna – http://www.worldthroughherheart.blogspot.com

  • Reply
    Florid Sword
    June 17, 2017 at 4:06 pm

    This was very helpful. I tend to whine about the fact that I can accomplish NaNo easily, but when I try to set goals in the other nine months of the year I fail. But NaNo is a different season, so I'm different then. Thanks for this post πŸ™‚

    thefloridsword.blogspot.com

  • Reply
    Farm Lassie
    June 17, 2017 at 4:53 pm

    Great post Audrey!

    As someone that is dealing with perfectionism, this post ia a good reminder of what I should be doing.

    Catherine
    catherinesrebellingmuse.blogspot.com

  • Reply
    Marrok MacIntyre
    June 17, 2017 at 8:48 pm

    Oooh a rant post. Gotta say rants are post I tend to like. They really let us see the inside of the person writing them. Good job!

    Any time I feel like that I just go for a walk and come back to it latter. But I've also learned how to use it constructively because it's how I work with my art. Great post Audrey!

  • Reply
    Jasmine Grace
    June 18, 2017 at 12:20 am

    THANK YOU FRIEND I LOVE YOU FOREVERS UGHH *gives chocolate hugs*

    I feel this way… all the time. But I've never really been able to handle it in a way that solves it. I literally just sulk and fail and just don't know what to do with myself. It's awful, but you have given me hope. thank you.

  • Reply
    Arya Lynn
    June 18, 2017 at 12:31 am

    Hi Audrey!!
    First of all, thank you so much for this post !! It was so powerful and useful and greaaaat! It made me think :3 Second of all, i loved it !!!

  • Reply
    Grace Osas
    June 18, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    I do often feel like I'm getting worse. Mainly because I haven't been writing much for a long time. However, I'm doing a writing course this September so I hope that will help πŸ˜›

  • Reply
    Gray
    June 18, 2017 at 10:34 pm

    I love this advice! It's very important to remember that you're your book's biggest critic.

  • Reply
    Jane Maree
    June 18, 2017 at 11:29 pm

    <33 Yas. This is so true and so logical but sO DARN HARD TO REMEMBER. *flop*
    I was like this about a month ago before I gave the first half of Rogue Escarlate to my alphas. I was a mess of "it's not good enough. help. they're going to hate it. I'm a failure." and that was /not/ fun at all. BUT YOU KNOW WHAT. They all really like it and yes there's a lot that they've said for fixing BUT THEY LIKE IT. And that snapped me out of the whirlpool of self-critic-ness and made me realise what I was doing. Because /of course/ it's not perfect. But yep. *looses train of thought* It was a really encouraging experience though.

  • Reply
    Julian Daventry
    June 19, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    Oh, wow, thanks for this post! I've recently felt this way as I took a look of my writing and noticed it just seemed more sloppy, more rabbit trailed, and more rough than previous first drafts. Guess that's because I'm typing faster, finishing drafts faster, and using less outlines than previous works. And it's a new story world.
    It can be hard to remember these things – it's just a first draft, it doesn't have to be perfect. I just have to remind myself that this is what I get for writing how I write (no editing, just flying across the keyboard as the timer counts down). And this nasty draft is what editing and my editors are for!
    Thanks for the post!

  • Reply
    Abbiee
    June 19, 2017 at 1:00 pm

    OH MY GOSH THIS HIT HOME REALLY HARD. THANK YOU FOR SHARING THIS. <3 As you probably already know, I'm a manic perfectionist. :') I try so hard to live up to my own ideals and of course it's impossible, but I try anyway??? AND THEN = DISAPPOINTMENT. But in regards to writing, yes. SAME THING. I've also felt like I've been getting worse, or after I write something that I feel REALLY good about I go back to it months later and I'm like "this is trash" *NERVOUS LAUGHTER* *HITS HEAD ON DESK* I can relate so much.

    BUT YOU'RE RIGHT ON AS ALWAYS. Perfection is unattainable and we are horrible judges of our own work, no matter what it is. I definitely feel better about my writing when other people read it and tell me their honest opinion, and it's never all that bad! SO YES I'LL STOP RAMBLING BUT WONDERFUL POST!!

    rock on,
    abbiee

  • Reply
    Audrey Caylin
    June 19, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    YOUR advice is awesome here! Usually, after I finish a first draft, I only wait a week before diving in for edits. That's mainly because I still have what I want to fix fresh in my mind… and I'm impatient! This summer I'm really going to try and let my novels rest for longer after I finish them. Looking at a project with fresh eyes can be really amazing as you realize it's not as bad as you think it was!

    Thank you so much! <3

  • Reply
    Audrey Caylin
    June 19, 2017 at 5:25 pm

    *nods* That's me πŸ˜› I guess some of this post can be applied to perfectionism outside of writing — something I definitely struggle with. I've come to realize that the only perfection you can achieve is just the appearance of it, even though you feel horrible inside… which isn't true perfection anyway. It's taken a lot of prayer and help for me to believe that I don't have to be perfect by any means, and that's alright.

    Aww, thank you <3 <3

  • Reply
    Audrey Caylin
    June 19, 2017 at 5:29 pm

    I do the same thing! I have stories from a few years ago that I printed out on Lulu, and reading them reminds me that I'm not as "bad" as I used to be, that even though I might take one step back every now and then, I'm still moving forward.

    YESSS. Of course, it's not good to do that all the time, but for us perfectionists, sometimes we really need to say it πŸ˜‰

    THANK YOU <3

  • Reply
    Audrey Caylin
    June 19, 2017 at 5:30 pm

    THANK YOU SO MUCH, SAVANNAH. Your comment made my day and I'm glad it came at a good time for you <3 <3

  • Reply
    Audrey Caylin
    June 19, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    I think we're on the same page then xD Rewritings are especially tough, as we compare the old version to the new version and wonder if we just made it ten times worse than before. Then we start picking out all the little flaws and become completely blind to what is actually GOOD. Perfectionism can really suck the joy out of writing if we don't step back every now and then and realize we're getting better.

    Ha, it's a tried and true method πŸ˜‰

    EEEP THANK YOU <3

  • Reply
    Audrey Caylin
    June 19, 2017 at 5:37 pm

    Wow, that is a wonderful question to ask about your novel! And writing definitely has two sides to it — the imaginative side and the logical side. I love how first drafts are so beautiful in that you don't have to think the logic, you can just… write. And it's freeing.

    Awww thank you so much, Anna <3 <3

  • Reply
    Audrey Caylin
    June 19, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    If only we could be in Nano mode all year round πŸ˜› But then we might get tired out, I guess πŸ˜‰ I hope you have an awesome Camp NaNo!

    Thanks for reading! <3

  • Reply
    Audrey Caylin
    June 19, 2017 at 5:39 pm

    Thank you, Catherine! I'm glad you liked it! <3

  • Reply
    Audrey Caylin
    June 19, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    Haha, I might be writing another one this weekend, so watch out πŸ˜‰

    That is one thing I am thankful for about perfectionism — it makes me work hard and be brutally honest with myself and my work! xD

    Thanks!

  • Reply
    Audrey Caylin
    June 19, 2017 at 5:43 pm

    AAHHH THANK YOU SO MUCH *gives cups of unending gratitude*

    I know! Perfectionism is just. so. hard. Especially in writing. I'm glad this post came at a good time for you <3

    Thanks for reading!

  • Reply
    Audrey Caylin
    June 19, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    Hi Arya! Thank you so much! πŸ˜€ <3

  • Reply
    Audrey Caylin
    June 19, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    Writing courses definitely help! Consistency is also a big thing. No matter how slow you may feel like you're going, every word counts! You've got this <3

  • Reply
    Sarah Margaret
    June 19, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    basically, I LOVE THIS POST. and yeah, I know what you mean. Its hard when you even start comparing to yourself xP Honestly, I feel like my writing is better from my past novel, but then again, I might feel as you do when I write the second part of this novel (ugh I split it into two cuz it kinda happened and gah the problems xP XD) but yes, I love this post thanks for much for it! BRING NANO ON (actually not yet, I need plotting days lol BUT YES. NANO SOON. xD)

  • Reply
    Audrey Caylin
    June 19, 2017 at 5:48 pm

    Thank you, Gray!

    btw, I'm planning on doing a Rebellious Writing post soon. Thank you so much for starting this awesome, incredibly important movement! <3

  • Reply
    Audrey Caylin
    June 19, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    OMW THE SAME HAPPENED TO ME. I thought my book was a total flop, then I had an alpha read it, and learned it WASN'T THAT BAD. Which was great, considering how horrible I thought it was xD Sending a novel for critiquing is so hard but so worth it.

    <3

  • Reply
    Audrey Caylin
    June 19, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    That's what first drafts are for πŸ™‚ I personally use outlines nowadays to make editing easier, but everyone has a different way. The important thing is to get those words down!

    Thank you! Thanks for reading! <3

    (also, I ADORE your profile pic. that's such a pretty horse <3)

  • Reply
    Audrey Caylin
    June 19, 2017 at 5:57 pm

    THANK YOU. Perfectiomism is such a nasty roller coaster ride of "YES I'VE GOT THIS IT WILL BE PERFECT" and "NO IT'S NOT PERFECT I'M A FAILURE." And yes, yes, yes that's happened to me so many times (including the headdesk).

    AAHHH NO PROBLEM I LOVE YOUR RAMBLES. xD <3 <3

  • Reply
    Audrey Caylin
    June 19, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    EEEPP THANK YOU <3

    Ugh, yes, comparison is such a monster! XP

    YOU'VE GOT THIS THOUGH. BRING THOSE WORDS ON. That's what NaNo is for! (which is only like eleven days away???? *dies*)

  • Reply
    AmyNikita
    June 19, 2017 at 6:29 pm

    Ah Audrey you have NAILED my problems with my writing! What holds me back most of all is the disappointment with my own writing. I'm always comparing, and it's so crippling πŸ™
    But I know I shouldn't, and this post is so helpful and inspiring and encouraging – I'll definitely come back and read this when I start writing my next book. Thank you πŸ™‚

    Amazing post <3

    Amy @ A Magical World Of Words

  • Reply
    Audrey
    June 19, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    i love this post because it applies to other things besides writing! i'm a HUGE perfectionist and steps 1 & 2 always help me sooo much when i'm feeling down.
    -audrey
    http://honestlyaudrey.com/

  • Reply
    Ivie B
    June 20, 2017 at 1:00 am

    No problem. I used to dive into edits the minute I was done. I would start over too many times. I don't even know what draft I'm on. I call it my real first draft.
    I let it sit for four weeks. That seemed to be enough for me, but sometimes you may need more or you may need less.
    <3

  • Reply
    Julian Daventry
    June 20, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    I use a brief synopsis as my writing outline, but for editing, I have to make a scene-by-scene outline, so I know what needs to be taken out, put in, or modified!

    (And thanks! He's a Friesian horse, and he's actually clean in that picture…he loves to roll, so it's hard to keep him shiny and spotless!)

  • Reply
    Audrey Caylin
    June 21, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    I'm sorry to hear that, Amy πŸ™ I've started to struggle with comparison more and more in the past years, and it's been tough.

    I'm glad this helped! You're an amazing writer — you've got this! <3 <3

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • Reply
    Audrey Caylin
    June 21, 2017 at 7:45 pm

    Yes, it absolutely applies to things beyond writing! Since I write so much, I usually experience the effects of perfectionism the most there, but also in a lot of other areas. I guess I wrote part of this post as a motivational reminder for myself xD

    Thanks for reading! <3

  • Reply
    abigail lennah
    June 21, 2017 at 10:30 pm

    DUDE I CRY BECAUSE I COMMENTED EARLIER BUT SAFARI CRASHED. I'll have to rewrite the response later. For now, just wanted to stop and say: Tag! You're it. I've nominated you for the You're Not Good Enough book tag (which I think you'll absolutely have a ball with). You can check out the post here. May the odds ever be in your favorite character's favor!

    xoxo Abigail Lennah | ups & downs

  • Reply
    Audrey Caylin
    June 26, 2017 at 7:44 pm

    AAAHH I'M SORRY πŸ˜› Thanks for commenting though!

    Cool! I'll go check out it. Thanks for tagging me! <3

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