Is Perfectionism Killing Your Creativity?

Carole Kirschner Perfectionism Killing Creativity Screenwriting.jpg

Anyone can end up down the rabbit hole of trying to be perfect. Especially in a place like Hollywood where it takes a lot to get noticed, writers can become consumed with the idea that to succeed their work has to not only be great, it needs to be perfect. Striving to be your best can be a good motivator, but striving to be “perfect” can be destructive: killing your imagination and spontaneity. I’ve seen it and it makes me sad.

Trust me when I say, people reading your scripts aren’t looking for absolute perfection, they’re looking for a unique voice that feels authentic. Striving for that is going to get you much further than striving for perfection.

Here are 4 ways to let go of perfection and embrace your authenticity instead: 

1. Get to Know the Imperfect You

Too often a writer’s idea of “perfect” is what they think their reps or executives would consider perfect. Don’t waste your time. Art is subjective, and trying to guess what other people want will do nothing but make you crazy and creatively stuck. So relax! Let go of the obsession with being perfect, it might actually be killing what makes your work unique and wonderful. If you stop striving to“get it right for them” and focus more on what feels right for you, you’ll hone your authentic voice as a writer. It’s that authenticity that’s going to set you apart from the rest.

2. Finish a “bad” script

There’s a reason the word “draft” exists. No writer gets it right on the first try. Perfection is the instigator behind a LOT of procrastination and supposed “writers block”. It’s self judgment in disguise: you don’t want to write because you’re worried it won’t be perfect, and if it’s not perfect you’ll be judged negatively. I get it, rejection is scary, but how can you become the prolific screenwriter you want to be without actually completing a script? I know one writer who’s been writing a feature for fourteen years! Challenge yourself to focus on finishing a draft rather than focusing on your draft being perfect. In the beginning, go for quantity over quality (the quality can come later). Give yourself micro deadlines, like writing for 30 minutes a day, to just get your writing out on the table. Small goals can be great to keep you rolling on quantity, not stuck in the paralysis that is “quality”. 

3. Share Your Work with Trusted friends When It’s Just “Good Enough”

A lot of writers hold their scripts too close to their chest for too long because they think it needs more work. More than likely your script can be improved, but hiding your script isn’t going to make it better, feedback (from someone credible of course) is going to make it better. Usually the reason writers hold off sharing their scripts has nothing to do with their work being bad, it has to do with their fear of receiving bad feedback. If the fear of feedback is holding you back, start by sharing your work with someone who will go easy on you. Have the courage to ask them for notes when your script is just “good enough”. Ask them to be honest, but gentle. Then share your next draft with someone who will give you more critical (but constructive) feedback. Baby steps. Facing the judgment of others in baby steps can help kill your fear of judgment that’s masquerading as perfectionism. 

4. There’s a fine line between Professionalism and Perfectionism 

If you are a perfectionist, chances are you’ll never feel like your work is good enough to show “real” people who can affect your career, that it can always be just a little bit better. And, don’t get me wrong, this attention to detail can be a good thing. You do only get one shot with most script readers, so by the time they see your script it needs to be the absolute best it can be (save the “just good enough” drafts for the creation/development stage). But there’s a fine line between being professionally thorough and being manic about one or two commas. If you’re scared to show your work, you’ll always find little edits and tweaks that need to be made. Having the courage to get your writing out into the world isn’t easy, but if you know in your gut your script is polished and ready to go, don’t sit on it too long, time goes by fast and every story has its right time to be released.

How do stop perfectionism from slowing you down? Let me know @CaroleKirsch!