WIP: Love Letter to the Perfectionist Author
One thing I’ve really needed to heal is perfectionism. I’ve always known I was a perfectionist, but I didn’t know why or how to stop being one. Heck, I didn’t even think perfectionism was something I needed to heal until recently. I’ve realized that I’m a perfectionist because I don’t believe I’m implicitly worthy of love and acceptance unless I prove to others that I am—by being perfect, by being the best, by being special in some way.
The issue is that the writing industry is not a great place for a perfectionist. We authors are basically expected to depend on readers’ opinions of our work to say whether a book is good or not, worthy of love or not. The book, to the author (for me, anyway) is literally an extension of our soul, so it feels very much so like the reader is deciding whether we as human beings are worthy of love or not, too. It doesn’t help that many opinions and reviews really do cross from thoughts on the book and craft and into the territory of whether the author is a good person, whether the author deserves to be put onto a pedestal—pedestals which are then, more often than not, torn down. That is… not healthy.
I’ve had to realize that I’m not perfect. I’m not the best author. There is an infinite number of authors who are more successful in their craft than I am, and ever will be. I’ve had to realize that every person in the world is special, which—in the end—means that no one is special, not really. And, most importantly, I’ve had to realize that with even this in mind, I’m still worthy of love. I could write a book that would be universally hated by every single person in the world, and I would still be worthy of love. I’ve had to learn to separate my worthiness from others’ opinions—of myself, and of my writing.
It’s still a work in progress, but the beginning of this journey has been freeing. I hope the same for any writer who also feels like their worth is tied to whether others love their books or not, to whether their books are seen as the most popular or if they feel ignored. It can be easy to see how our worth as human beings isn’t tied to our job when we work in an office, doing the 9-5 grind. It’s a little harder to make the distinction with something that is so much more personal as we put ourselves on display through our stories. It can be difficult to remember that, even if hundreds of people point at your book—at you—and say “not good enough”, you’re still worthy of love, too.
It’s been helpful to realize that a book’s financial success is always decided on by the publisher. The publisher literally decides what will be the “big” bestselling books, based on data from which books have been successful in the past, and depending on whether that publisher has enough space on their list—enough of a budget—to put a spotlight on your book. A book that is ignored by readers means that there was no marketing and publicity money or energy spent by the publisher. This is not a reflection on any of us as human beings, and whether we are worthy of love and attention.
It’s also been helpful to see that readers and reviewers’ opinions of books often correlate with their own experience in writing. It’s always easier to be judgmental of something that we haven’t actually done before ourselves, easier to find fun in picking apart stories, art—anything, really—while knowing we’ll be safe from similar judgments. I’ve also found that the more a person wants to be published, too, or wants the positive opinions of others on their work, the harsher they are in judgment of other books.
I was extremely judgmental of novels when I first started writing, back before I was even querying novels—but it was only to protect myself. If I could read a book that was loved by most people and roll my eyes and say, “It wasn’t even that good,” then it would feel easier to look at my own work and say that it was good enough to be published, to be loved—that I was good enough to be loved, too.
This wasn’t helpful to my growth as an author. I couldn’t look at books objectively to see what worked for me and what didn’t work for me, to build my own personal craft and voice. I couldn’t see that every book—yes, every book, unless harmful in some way—has merit, because it is in fact an extension of someone’s soul, and that every writer is so incredibly brave to share a piece of their soul, knowing that they will be picked apart and judged for fun by people who haven’t written books themselves. It can be really painful. It's okay to acknowledge that hurt and pain in order to heal from it, to learn that the opinions of others don't reflect our worth.
Early on, there was only ever one break in my perfectionism when it came to my writing. This became the big break I needed for my career. I told myself, for both Hurricane Child and This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story, that the stories don’t need to be perfect. I just need to get started. I just need to get my foot in the door, and then I’ll continue to grow as a writer. Unfortunately, since then, I’ve unconsciously decided that it’s been enough time now since my first two books: I need to show everyone that I am a perfect writer, in order to feel that I’m worthy of love.
So, this post is a love letter to myself and to any other writer who is also struggling with perfectionism: it doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, the books I’m writing right now, and that you’re writing, too, can’t be perfect, because there’s simply no such thing as perfect. I think we all know this, but it's been different to logically understand this and energetically feel this truth. Even knowing, logically, that I can't be perfect, I’ve still wanted to be perceived as perfect—to write books that will be universally loved by every single person, meaning that I will be universally loved by every single person. But it’s literally impossible to please everyone. One person loves romance while another prefers there was no romance in novels; one person loves fast-paced plots while another wants stories to be slower. One person rates your book 1 star; another, 5 stars. (Have I mentioned how much I dislike star rating systems???)
There will be people who hate—yes, absolutely hate—the stories that we write, who will enjoy tearing our work apart, who will make a game of it and will say that we are not enough or worthy of their love, many with absolute glee. It might feel like they’re tearing us as people apart, too. But if we can find the freedom in our imperfection, then we can move forward. If we lean into the imperfection and embrace those moments in plot or character or language that feel messy, unpolished, unworthy of rave reviews and accolades, then our stories will open to unexpected beauty. If we can understand that the opinions of others, and publishers' decisions, are not a reflection on us as human beings, then we will find fearlessness and freedom. I want us all to see that we’re worthy of love… not because our stories are perfect, but because they are not perfect. Humans are imperfect. Humans are worthy of love.