Anne Lamott on Perfectionism

Anne Lamott on Perfectionism June 3, 2015

bbb.001“Perfectionism is another way we avoid vulnerability, and it also happens to be my favorite sin… I tell myself that if I do it perfectly every time, then no one can critique me, and I don’t have to feel vulnerable.” Shrink, p. 148.


I’m a recovering perfectionist. So every now and then I force myself to read Anne Lamott’s short chapter on the subject from her book, Bird by Bird. Here’s some of what strikes me as wise:

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” p.28

“Perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness and life force… perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave too much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground.” p.28

“Perfectionism is one way our muscles cramp. In some cases we don’t even know that the wounds and the cramping are there, but both limit us. They keep us moving and writing in tight, worried ways. They keep us standing back or backing away from life, keep us from experiencing life in a naked and immediate way.” p.30

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.” p.25

“One of the most annoying things about God is that he never just touches you with his magic wand, like Glinda the Good, and gives you what you want. Like it would be so much skin off his nose. But he might give you the courage or the stamina to write lots and lots of terrible first drafts, and then you’d learn that good second drafts can spring from these, and you’d see that big sloppy imperfect messes have value.” p.30

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