The Writing Process for Perfectionists

When reading a published text, in any format, it often shares many of the same visible traits. The words are evenly spaced, the font is the same within each line, and there is little interruption unless purposeful to the reader regarding visible differences across the page. In Thomas Newkirk’s book Embarrassment (p. 138), he says: “…the continuity and uniformity of this written text totally obscures the fumbling and discontinuous act of writing it…” The writing might be, perfect.

For a young writer who is stalled by a perfectionist trait, “just write” may not be the most encouraging of words. Telling a perfectionist to just “get words on the page,” will likely only unleash a trickle of safe ideas with little risk of failure. However, to begin, one must have words to shape. It is what we do next that matters the most when urging a writer to write. Perfectionists need our permission and a shield of safety when wading into deeper waters that could be wrecked with perceived mistakes.

I have written about the writing process in previous posts. Each year I am challenged to dispell myths about what the words writing process mean to my students. Despite what someone may have told them. Despite what a poster said or an adult encouraged, the writing process is as individual as one’s fingerprint. When you look at fingerprints, all lined up, from a distance they all look similar. Squiggly lines follow each other in maze-like patterns. However, we know for a fact, that all fingerprints are unique.

Through my own imperfect modeling of my writing process, I attempt to impress upon my writers that there is no one way to write well. Words all lined up on a page can get there through multiple paths and challenging mazes of their own. I would ask that you point this out to your perfectionist who may be fearful of meandering off the one-way road to a destination called, “I’m finished.”

To help you in this quest of opening the gates for words to flow, mistakes to lay, and messes to ripen through raw writing I invite you to watch these videos of authors sharing about their own writing process. You can find resources in many places, these just happen to be some I particularly enjoy. It reminds me and my students that some of our favorite mentors have been right where we are as writers.

Kate DiCamillo and Katherine Patterson-Thier process and how they differ from each other.

Jess Keating-Encouragement for the mess of writing.

Jacqueline Woodson-How she makes decisions through her writing process and the importance of rereading.

A short video of her writing process.

A longer video, well worth the time from knowitall.org also featuring Jacqueline Woodson.

Kate Messner-Dispelling the myth that all authors have innate talent. 

Keep in mind these videos are meant for all audiences, but some will lend better to older while others to younger writers. Before sharing with students, please preview.