Note: In an attempt to manage my perfectionism, I’ve written this in one sitting with little to no editing and published it as is. Considerably different from how I normally do things. More on my usual process below.
Perfectionism is a bailout for not being responsible and doing what we know we should do. It’s not my real problem, and it’s not yours. It’s “future-proofing” and what we’re really afraid of is criticism. I say “we’re” because if you’re reading this, you probably have the same problem. We’re in this together, fellow procrastinator.
Back in June of last year, I wrote an article titled “Underwater Chicken Is Going To Blow Your Mind” which to this day has earned me $700+. It’s not a particularly well-written or well-researched article and by no means do I even think it’s my best work. As a matter of fact, looking at it now actually makes me cringe a little and I can’t help but think how fucking clickbaity that title is. How could chicken blow anybody’s mind? Regardless, the 1600+ people that liked (clapped) it think otherwise, so I should just chill the fuck out and bang out a few more of those articles, right?
If only it were that easy…
See, it was in that article earning me a fuckton of money (most publications don’t pay more than a couple of hundred dollars) that my creative process went to shit. I started taking my writing a lot more seriously and studying the work of people I consider far better than me in the hopes of publishing more work that I was happy with, more frequently. That didn’t work.
Here’s what my creative process looks like now:
- Get an idea and write it down
- Put it off for like a decade because the idea is “not original/good enough”.
- Eventually, start writing or designing.
- Work in tiny bursts because I’m afraid of looking at my work for too long and flipping out, changing a million things along the way.
- Realize I’m being a perfectionist and I’ve just gotta “chill out”.
- Get the work done.
- Feel satisfied but also drown in a million thoughts of how it could have been better.
And how much work do I publish with a process like that? It swings from fuck all to not enough.
In becoming more demanding of myself and more of a perfectionist, my entire process has become counterproductive and I’m not enjoying my work as much anymore. Obviously, I understand the privilege that comes with being able to write online and earn money for it. I’m entirely aware of what I’ve got to be grateful for, but unfortunately, that’s not enough to silence the inner critic most of the time.
That inner critic will tell me that I’ve just got “high standards” when I’ve really got imposter syndrome. I don’t think my work is worth enough for the public and I don’t think I deserve it. Why me when other people studied for this? Why would anyone want to read an article on yogurt fermentation? Would an editor just laugh at this?
And those thoughts are understandable. They’re not our fault. Millions of years of evolution have programmed us to treat criticism as life-threatening. If you were ostracized from your tribe thousands of years ago, you were fucked — literal death ensued. We evolved to avoid any kind of conflict that could endanger us.
The good news is that nowadays criticism and snarky remarks come basically risk-free. The worst-case scenario is a blow to our ego, a shitty mood, and then we move on. In most cases though, people put their work out there and get nothing but support and constructive feedback. And the only way to get that support and more attention to your work is by going public with it. That’s non-negotiable. You can’t be revered for anything if nobody knows who the fuck you are.
Creative work is difficult in that you have to make it for yourself. You have to believe it’s worth your time and energy. You have to believe it’s important. The decision to dedicate your time and attention to your work is a serious act of ego. You’re saying “fuck what anybody else thinks, this is what I need to be doing.”
And living with that firm self-declaration is hard and uncomfortable. Sometimes it makes me question who I am. Am I really a food writer? I am because I fucking choose to say so. I also choose to swear a lot.
When I hit publish on that chicken article, the stakes were lower. I wasn’t earning much (if any) money for my writing and I wasn’t so caught up in whether my writing was good enough for publications or what the better writers that I know would think. I just wrote because I wanted to. I gave far fewer fucks than I give today and maybe my writing would be better today if I’d stayed like that.
I choose to no longer feel the fear of self-declaration that disguises itself as perfectionism. I still have insufferably high standards with everything but I’m resolving to stop using that as my bailout. From now on, I choose practicality, self-love, and self-forgiveness.
How funny, I already feel better.