Advice for the Perfectionists in Writing Workshop

Do you consider yourself to be a perfectionist?

Are there students in your classroom who might be described as perfectionists?

I recently took this Perfectionism Test at Psychology Today, and discovered, to the surprise of absolutely no one, that I have some extreme perfectionist tendencies. As an adult, fully aware of this, I’ve developed coping strategies over the years — some more effective than others.

For students, writing workshop is a time of day when perfectionism can really get in the way of being productive. Our young writers may need advice and strategies on dealing with their own emerging perfectionist tendencies.

Brene Brown says, “What emerged for me in the data is that perfectionism is not about striving for excellence or healthy striving. It’s… a way of thinking and feeling that says this: ‘If I look perfect, do it perfect, work perfect and live perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, blame and judgment’” (Huffington Post, 2013).

This is particularly relevant to writing — where the work is often on display for a meaningful audience. With this in mind, I’ve pulled together some advice from some of my favorite authors and teachers of writing.

Ira Glass, on learning something new:

Some of my favorite writing advice, ever (from Nerdfighters):

From Ta-Nehisi Coates:

And this advice from JK Rowling:

And this advice from Jason Reynolds:

Successful writers are willing to try, and to fail. We can help students understand this by modeling our own attempts and failures, by emphasizing and demonstrating revision and rewriting, and by using language that values hard work, persistence, and flexibility over perfectionism.

This advice isn’t just for the emerging young writers in your classrooms. It’s also advice for you, teachers of writing. Your workshop may never be perfect–but you will learn a ton in the process of trying.