Perfectionism vs. Procrastination: What’s REALLY Going On?


Do you ever feel like if you just think and plan a little more, you’ll have your whole story figured out? Or if you just research a little bit longer, maybe you’ll unlock that one last worldbuilding element that’s been giving you trouble?

Me too. I’m a recovering perfectionist—meaning that I know I can be a perfectionist, but I also know that it doesn’t really serve me as well as I might have once thought it did. So, I’m “recovering.”

But I know it’s not just me…

I talk to a lot of writers who are at all stages of the writing, editing, or publishing process that also deal with perfectionism, but it’s especially something writers deal with when they’re just starting out or when they’re in the beginning section of their stories

Those tend to be the two biggest times I see perfectionism literally stop writers in their tracks. And it’s such a terrible feeling, right?!


What’s funny is that if you’re anything like me, it’s almost like we think that by being a perfectionist or by trying to have everything perfectly figured out before we start writing or before we dig into revisions or before we query agents, whatever it is… 

It’s almost like we think the results of whatever we’re doing will be better, but that’s not really true. 

In most cases, we wait so long to actually do the work or send out those queries or move from an outline to actually writing or whatever it is… 

We wait so long that it ends up never getting done, and then, if you’re like me, you feel like a little bit of a failure, so maybe you start researching how to organize yourself better or how to improve your writing process or whatever it is… 

But still nothing gets finished. 

So, as a recovering perfectionist, here’s the thing I’ve come to realize… 

Perfectionism is really just another form of procrastination. 

And to take this one step further, I’ve also learned that taking action and making mistakes as quickly as possible is how you continue learning and growing—and how you’ll ultimately achieve your goals. 

You’ve got to make the mistakes.  

Now, if you're a perfectionist, you're probably thinking, “Whoa, I don’t like the idea of this…” But hear me out for a second because here's where I'm coming from: over the last 12 months, I’ve challenged myself to make decisions quickly. 

And this is NOT something that comes naturally to me—I like to take my time and weigh the pros and cons of everything, and gather all the facts, and things like that… 

But more often than not, that results in making no decision. 

And in many cases, if I don’t make decisions, I don’t hit my goals, whether they’re writing-related, personal, or professional. 

Because you’ve got to take action and move forward to hit your goals, right? Logically, I think we all know this, but it’s not always easy to do.


Strategies to Help You Deal With Perfectionism

So, I wanted to share what has helped me because maybe it will help you get into action and start making progress towards accomplishing your goals. 

And what really helped me was hearing one of my business mentors talk about this idea of a “cut bait” date. 

This basically means that no matter where you’re at in the process of whatever you’re working on, by that “cut bait” date, you’re just going to have to say, “Okay, time’s up. I'm making the decision. I'm going in this direction with my plot, I'm choosing this story idea to write next, or I'm going to work with this editor or take this writing course, or I’m going to cut this scene” or whatever it might be.  

And then, around that same time, I was working with a writer who had been waffling back and forth between publishing their book or putting it through another round of editing. And we talked about this video he had seen where Seth Godin used the term “ship it,” which basically means to just get your work out there, even if it’s not 100% what you wanted it to be. 

But basically, there comes a time—usually, it's a date—when you need to say enough is enough and move on. And the more you waffle back and forth or the more you wallow in whether you made the right decision or not, all you’re doing is eating up your creativity, your bandwidth, your time, and your energy. 

Because the thing is, until you ship it, you'll never know if it's going to work or not. And the more you overthink that decision, you're just delaying the inevitable. 

Now, again, this makes sense logically, right? It’s easy to be like, “yeah, that makes sense…” but it’s a whole different story to put it into practice. I know this because, as I said, I am a recovering perfectionist, too. 


My Latest Battle With Perfectionism

Just the other week, I was doing a presentation for a group of writers, and we were talking about scene structure and how to write a meaningful arc of change in a scene and things like that… And someone in the audience pointed out that I had a typo on one of my slides and was basically questioning my ability as an editor because I had a typo on my slide. And I’m sharing this with you for two reasons… 

First, because obviously, I could have spent more time checking the spelling and grammar on each individual slide. I could have also paid someone to check it for me or something like that, right? Those things would both take extra time, and one would require a financial investment. I could have done that—and the perfectionist in me wishes I had. I really do wish all of my slides and everything I do could be typo-free and just perfect. 

But instead of getting hung up on this person’s criticism or the idea that maybe I look unprofessional because I had a typo in my slide, I reframed it and thought about all the other wonderful things I was able to do because I didn’t spend extra time proofreading my presentation. 

And look, for the record, I really did think it was good to go–I did proofread it, but we’re all humans that make mistakes, right? It happens. 

So, let’s just play with this example for a second because if I had spent another hour or whatever proofreading—or sent it out to make sure it was 100% perfect, I might not have gotten a podcast episode done that week. So, how would I feel about not sharing a new episode with my wonderful listeners when I know that a new episode would definitely help them with their writing and it would definitely help get more stories into the world… How would I feel about not sharing a new episode because I spent my time and energy making sure a slide deck was 100% perfect? Probably not very good, right? 

And here’s the thing—many people who were at that presentation just loved it. I had so much great feedback on how what we talked about helped them or opened their eyes to something in their own writing or whatever. So, even though there was a typo here and there, look at the good this imperfect presentation did.

Now, I know you’re probably like, okay, that’s cool, but what does this have to do with me writing my own book? Well, it’s kind of the same thing for you… 


How to Deal With Perfectionism When it Comes to Your Writing

If your outline is not perfect, that’s okay. You’re still making progress. If you write a first draft that’s not perfect, that’s okay—it was never going to be anyway, so don’t expect it to be! If you publish a book that has a typo or gap in logic or a mistake somewhere, that’s okay, too! 

I mean, have you ever read a published book—from a traditional publishing house even—with a typo!? I certainly have. Some of my favorite stories have mistakes in them, and I don’t love them any less.

So, my point is that you have to do the work to make mistakes and to learn. You have to take imperfect action if you are going to achieve your goals—there’s no way around it. 

Even if you start making decisions and, let’s say, a few of them don’t work–that’s really okay. If a decision doesn't work out, then you move on to the next thing to get closer to it working. You're just always troubleshooting—and I think this is a nice frame of mind to have, especially when it comes to writing a book.

And when this happens, or when you make a decision that doesn’t particularly work out, just ask yourself, “What can I learn? Where can I grow?” I'm telling you, this one little mindset shift has huge for me, and it could be for you as well. 

So, getting back to just getting it out there again, I'm going to repeat what I said earlier until you ship it, you'll never know if it's going to work or not, and you'll never get the lessons you were meant to get. 

You've got to get it out there. 

You’ve got to do the work and make the mistakes

Because only then will you learn and grow and actually accomplish the things you want to accomplish.

So, long story short, if you’re trying to get something just right or perfect, you're really just procrastinating getting it out into the world. 

And I know, I know… If you’re like me, you probably have high standards, and you want whatever you put out into the world to be of really good quality. I know, and I relate to this because I struggle with it, too.

But seriously, those high standards can sometimes be a mask for procrastination. 

Procrastination comes from fear. 

You're probably feeling scared. Or you're worried about what people will think. Or you're afraid it won't work, and what will happen if your book doesn’t sell or what if people don’t like it? And even worse, what will people think of me if it doesn’t sell or if I get bad reviews? 

I think we’ve all been there in some form or another.

And let me tell you... It's okay. 

It's okay that our procrastination is just fear. 

We're human, and fear is wired into our brains. It keeps us safe in many different situations. But if you let it get the best of you, finishing your book and getting it out into the world is going to be very difficult. 

So that's what I’m always trying to keep in mind whether it’s about my own writing or something I put out of the podcast or a presentation I'm giving, or even something in my personal life. We have to be willing to put things out there that aren’t perfect.

They can be good—or even really good, don’t get me wrong. But they don’t have to be 100% perfect. Perfection is not going to happen on your first shot at anything. Let’s just say it’s not going to happen at all, right? We probably shouldn’t expect perfection ever. 

But you have to get your stories out there. You have to get feedback, see how people are resonating with what you’ve written, see how they’re reacting to it, see how you can make it better, and things like that. The more you can start taking action and making decisions quickly, the better and more natural it will eventually feel for you.

Final Thoughts

The biggest hurdle that you'll need to get over is your own mindset or feeling great about putting something out there that's just good. 

I want you to feel great about putting something out there that's good because you know that you're going to get to greatness if you pay attention to the feedback you get or how people are responding to whatever you put out there.  

So if you are a perfectionist, or someone with really high standards, the next time that you're faced with a decision, I challenge you to be aware of the time you're spending on making that decision. Give yourself a time frame to figure it out, make that decision, cut bait, and never look back.  

And hey, if you’re having trouble getting started with your writing, I have a free resource for you that will help you get right to the heart of what your story’s all about. It’s called the Story Starter Kit, and it’s a workbook with five questions that will help you figure out the foundational elements of the story you want to tell. 

Beyond that, don’t be afraid to lean on the writing community! There are so many wonderful writers out there who are struggling with the exact same thing! Let’s talk about it more so it stops feeling like a “taboo” subject.

I hope this was the pep-talk you needed today… And I hope that you start putting your work out into the world because YOU deserve to. The world needs more stories—and yours is just as needed as all the other ones.

Savannah is a developmental editor and book coach who helps fiction authors write, edit, and publish stories that work. She also hosts the top-rated Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast full of actionable advice that you can put into practice right away. Click here to learn more →