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Perfectionism in writing

Do you want to

  • improve the writing experience,
  • improve the writing process,
  • manage your time, and
  • cope with the anxiety of writing?

Sometimes perfectionism can be helpful–but, it can also work against you. If you find it’s holding you back, check out the materials below for strategies to help you:


MODULES AND RESOURCESPerfectionism in Writing


MODULE: Improving the writing experience and the writing process

Writing is about both the experience (a habit you can learn!) and the process (you’ll get there, step by step).

TOOLS: Strategies and resources related to perfectionism in writing

Strategies for managing your time; Strategies for coping with writing anxiety; The what and how of growth mindsets; How to let go (or, Strategies to help you stop writing)


INTRODUCTION: Self-Reflection

Before you begin, think about the meaning of each of the following:

Student looking at a computer screen

What is perfect? Without flaw, faultless. Montaigne says, “perfection is a walk with god.”

What is writing? The act of recording (v.); a literary piece (n.). That is, writing is both a process and a product.

What is perfectionism? The uncompromising pursuit of excellence.

What is “good enough?” A personal standard that may shift depending on circumstances, such as the work’s importance, the internal and external resources currently available, the costs of doing “better.”

When perfectionism works against you

The tendency toward perfectionism may be undermining you and your work if it leads you to…

  • Feel self-conscious about the writing process,
  • Feel dissatisfied with the quality of the product (incomplete and completed),
  • Feel judged about the writing,
  • Feel distressed,
  • Have difficulty starting to write,
  • Have difficulty finishing writing,
  • Work at the last minute: you may miss sleep or other obligations in order to complete writing, or you may not have time for proof reading, and/or
  • Avoid submitting writing for grading or review.

Other issues are sometimes mislabeled as perfectionism, such as confusion about what is expected in the assignment, avoidance of academic work, a lack of confidence, an unfamiliarity with how to write, and poor time allotment.

It’s important to think critically about the reason(s) behind your difficulty with a writing assignment. Do you understand what you are expected to do? What the steps are? How to start? Do you believe you have the skills and resources necessary to complete the task? Do you have enough time?

What are your strengths as a writer?

  • Creativity?
  • Word usage and clarity?
  • Making connections among ideas?
  • Developing an argument?
  • Writing to build or maintain enthusiasm for an idea?
  • Proof-reading?

Image courtesy of CollegeDegrees360 under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No-Derivations 2.0 license.


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