Navigating the Muddy Waters of Becoming an Author as a Recovering Perfectionist…And how to actually get it DONE
For years, I’ve taken numerous writing classes, joined writer’s meet-up groups, interviewed local authors and submitted writing samples and essays to blogs for consideration. Putting the steps in motion to becoming a published author was relatively easy; actually sitting down and writing a book (though my life-long dream), now that’s another story.
I don’t know about you, but for almost as long as I can remember, when I have something I dream of doing – personally or professionally – there’s a quiet yet sturdy voice in my head that whispers: ‘but you’re not good enough’; or, ‘it’ll never be perfect so why try?’.
Maybe you can relate?
This voice has been lurking my whole professional career, rearing up as I muster up the courage to take any new leap or challenge. It definitely was loud in my ear as I spoke at a national conference in 2017, the majority of my presentation speaking about my very personal experiences with an eating disorder, fertility challenges, and shame. BOY did I have a vulnerability hangover for a few days after that.
Once I was able to get my head out from my self-imposed, self-scheduled hiding under my covers, I was able to open my eyes to the flood of positive and warm feedback I received about my presentation. People I knew, as well as people I didn’t know, began inviting me in to their own vulnerabilities, some sharing stories similar to mine.
Then one day I opened my inbox to see an email from an editor at a major publishing company in New York. “I was in the audience at your presentation. Would you consider writing a book for us on the topic of eating disorders, fertility and shame? There is a huge need for this.”
My heart skipped a beat. Several beats. My vulnerability hangover suddenly felt worth it. I followed the publisher’s steps to create a proposal and submit it. It was accepted and I was given a one-year deadline to write this book. I was terrified and had no idea where to begin.
My first step was to hire a writing coach to hold me accountable and keep me writing. But she wasn’t going to write it for me, and my inner perfectionist kept me in a frozen state of panic for several weeks. Every week where I didn’t write anything I got more and more self-critical. I knew all of the “steps” of how to start writing, from morning pages to structured question and response style. Nothing worked and my critic told me “see? You’re a phony. You can’t do this.” It reminded me of my old eating disorder voice, the voice who told me I would never recover, that I couldn’t start a private practice and be successful, the voice that tries to keep me in a box.
Deep, deep, down, a whisper, which grew stronger and louder at each quip of the critic: “PROVE IT”.
And I did. I was juggling many things – my two-year-old daughter, my career, a home renovation, a thriving practice. You might think I was crazy; I might not question you on that. Each week I plugged along, writing from my heart. And I finally made it. On January 1, 2019, I hit “submit” and sent off my manuscript. I promptly hid under my covers for a few days after that.
Do you have a writing dream? Here are a few tools that I found helped me reach my deadline…imperfectly.
How to Reach Your Writing Deadline as a Perfectionist
1.) Do not read any of your competitor’s or other authors of the same field’s books.
This was my strategy, it might not be yours. I knew that my inner perfectionist LOVES to compare myself to others and she pretty much always comes up with the same conclusion: you’re not as good as that person. You’re not as good of a writer, academic, storyteller….etc etc etc (blah blah blah!). As part of my proposal writing process, I needed to evaluate the field of eating disorder and fertility books and see what else was out there that would be similar to my book. I did this, and then I didn’t read them It helped me focus on my process which was unique to me.
2.) Have someone else read it, too.
One of the biggest reasons that I hired a writing coach was so that I didn’t have to be the only one to read my writing. I knew inherently that I would be self-critical and not see it completely objectively (what author can?) and I would most likely self-sabotage if I didn’t have other, experienced, eyes on it. My coach, Amy Collette of Unleash Your Inner Author, asked me tons of questions, reminded me that I was doing a good job, kept me going when I wanted to avoid, and corrected my writing style if it went awry. Other than my husband, she was my biggest cheerleader and pushed me so that I continued despite times of self-doubt.
3.) Find a place you love to write and write there every day (or occasion)
For me, I finally got my rhythm when I found a cozy spot (not my office, not my home) where I felt comfortable to write. This was St. Mark’s Coffeehouse in Denver, where I was several times a week. It might be somewhere else for you, but find your spot. Put in your favorite non-distracting music (classical jazz for me) and plug away. Give yourself a break every 20-30 minutes. My brain cannot focus in intense writing capacity for longer than that, and it helped to stretch my legs, look at my phone, and then get back to it. Plus, the baristas got to know me quite well and then I could chat with them 🙂
I also took a sabbatical to a remote cabin in the woods without any distraction and wrote for three straight days. This may not be possible for you, but if you can find a quiet spot away from regular life I highly encourage it. AND have a stopping time and stick to it!
4.) Have a deadline, even if it’s your own.
It was fortunate that I had a deadline imposed by my publisher (while they said it was flexible, I chose to not listen to that). I work best with a deadline and even if my inner perfectionist yells at me each day or week I’m not writing. I did procrastinate somewhat, but it helped me to know that I had a date that I needed to be done by. I was so relieved by that, knowing it would be over/done at some point. If you are your own publisher/coach, set a date and put it in writing. Tell people about it, and ask them to hold you to it. (sidenote: if you need to extend your deadline, THAT IS OKAY!)
So, these are my words of thought. They are not perfect, nor am I. I am a firsttime author and still have so much to learn. But if you struggle with the same type of things I have, I hope my story can help and that you may find within yourself the knowledge that you can DO IT TOO! If I can, you can. 🙂
My book, The Clinical Guide to Fertility, Motherhood and Eating Disorders: From Shame to Self-Acceptance is coming out July 22, 2019! PRE – ORDER MY BOOK HERE
Other authors, perfectionists: Anything else you want to offer?