Writing: Coming to Terms With My Perfectionism


Writing: Coming to Terms with My Perfectionism
All or Nothing, To the Death

Cut by: Davita Cuttita

I’m a perfectionist.

I am the type of person that will mill over a mistake for days, weeks and occasionally, even for months. I will analyse and re-analyse every sentence I write, every word I say, every social action, my appearance and most of all; my professional and creative work.

I will never wear something that is wrinkled without ironing it first.

My drawers are arranged according to clothes: shirts in one drawer, pants in another drawer, etc. The seasonal stuff is placed on top while out of season items remain in the back or in the closet.

When I clean my apartment, I get down on all fours and scrub my floor clean. My washroom and kitchen must be immaculate at all times. If something is not cleaned to my hospital-like standards, then it is quite simply not clean. Cleanliness is paramount.

I go absolutely insane if a document or assignment is stapled more than once and if the manner the document is stapled in is not horizontal. I will RIP OUT THE STAPLE with my fingernails and replace it if so.

All my assignments must be completed according to my standards. No words out of place, no awkward sentences and my designated word counts are typically met by an even number that are exact or within range.

I’ve had many people exclaim that my English (and Japanese) printing and calligraphy are painfully neat. Someone once told me that “Only serial killers and psychos write that neatly,” when I was filling out a form.

When I eat, the fork or spoon must be a certain size and bent a certain way and if not, I will bend it myself to the desired angle or I will not eat with it or complain about the utensil in question.

I take my coffee black. I take my tea black.

When it comes to my work, I am my own worst critic. My way, or the highway. I can compromise, I enjoy it sometimes, but even that is subject to strenuous negotiations.

I have a lot of admiration for people who are into Do It Yourself type of stuff, zines and what have you. I was in a punk band for 5 seconds as a teenager and was pretty into some aspects of the movement so I’m used to that kinda thing. I have a lot of admiration for people who pursue their interests in general and are never afraid to put their stuff out there.

I’ve been writing scripts since I was 13 and began using script format after reading up on it and teaching myself when I was 16. I’ve also been writing poetry and short stories eversince I can remember.

When it came to my writing, encouragement was never in short supply. Teachers used to keep me after school not for detention but to try and convince me to enter local contests or other public moments and I rejected all offers out of shyness and not wanting to take the chance presenting “imperfect” work.

A few of my friends get to read the things I’ve completed thus far and are very supportive but the vast majority of the time most of my projects come to complete stand-stills and deadlocks for months and occasionally, even years because of my belief that if it’s not perfect in my mind it won’t, and can’t be perfect anywhere else. Each and every scene, plot and character line is rehearsed and re-tried in my mind constantly, every single day.

I’ve taken whole entire projects, years upon years of writing and thrown them in the garbage or burnt them in fireplaces without a second thought, re-starting projects as old as five or six years old completely anew.

I’ve thought about doing zines or joining a poetry group to produce a product but my perfectionist ways and paranoia always beat me to the punch.

Another random, made-up example: If I look at you and say “I need a budget of 1 million dollars, a crew of 200, eight computers, a small orchestra and a double shot of expresso to complete this project for you,” then that project won’t ever be done until I have all those things and I will be absolutely merciless in their pursuit. This obsessiveness with perfect resources and tools typically manifests itself as procrastination or a lot of wasted paper.

Do you have any idea how many times I rehearse a post in my head before putting it here? Or how many times I re-read past articles (sometimes months after publication!) to ensure all the spelling and grammar is proper? My answer to that is “too many.”

During the summer of 2008, writing here was the most challenging. I’d work full-time in finance then take 3 buses and travel 2 hours to get to French class. When class was over after two and a half hours, I would make the 3 hour trip back home (the buses run slower at night), iron my business suit for the next day, shower, have a light dinner or no dinner and go to sleep. If I ever wrote articles, they would take days to complete or I would stay up until odd hours of the morning to finish them then sleep briefly/not at all and be off to work again.

I’ve arranged and re-arranged every single item on this site sans the theme and created, write and meticulously maintain every single page and posted article for grammatical consistency and flow; right down to the slang.

I think I’m absolutely insane.

On PDDP, I feel SUPER exposed as a writer. When Grandpa and I started this I was like “Shit, I don’t want people to see my writing!” but it’s not really any of my super-personal project stuff so I quickly came to terms with it, enjoyed it and stopped being scared stupid.

Once I’m handed a commitment, I will literally destroy myself to maintain it by any means necessary, to absolute and perfect standards.

I am so used to having my creative (ugh, hate that word) side be very hermit-style and comfortable in my mind or as a bunch of disembodied attempts on my laptop.

I hold back so much because I say to myself, “Someday this will be perfect and when it is, then people can see it.” I’m also ridiculously paranoid about plagiarism and would really prefer to have actual, legal copyrights on everything and anything before publicizing them (yes, I have looked in to lawyers and read extensively about copyright law!).

All of this “perfectionist” thinking doesn’t apply to other peoples’ creative endeavours at all. Just my own.

And it kind of puts me on a weird path.

I’m doing everything I can to avoid the stereotypical “starving artist” thing. I don’t ever want my work or myself to appear cheap, shoddy or desperate—who does?

At this point in life, my goals are fairly financially and educationally oriented and my creativity is always going to have to take a back seat to those things until I achieve the level of success that allows me to really let it thrive with everything that it needs to be perfect in my eyes.

All my studies and both my majors are more about me being able to make money than do what I want in life. It’s not like I haven’t factored that in (I do like learning languages, even crazy French and I do enjoy Communications). Even my plans after school are about earning capital to take care of my needs and my families’ needs first and foremost, THEN perfection in my personal creations can come after. Every move I make, even creatively, is an active strategy on how to get my foot in the door and attain the level of perfection I so seek while at the same time, beating the shit out of any competition I can.

It’s cruel but I need to survive. I need money, I need to be marketable, I need to be neat, I need to be exact and precise. I have an insatiable need to be a perfectionist juggernaut.

Some people might wanna bash me and say I’m “selling out” or that maybe I should give my writing a bit more credit and time if I’m truly committed to it. I guess those people enjoy being broke because I sure as hell don’t. I guess those people like to settle but I don’t settle for anything less than my high standards or expectations. Professional and high quality, nothing less. Unacceptable.

At the same time, I need to get rid of these chest pains and migraines; I need to stop my nearly 3 year long cycle of taking prescribed pills every single day at the risk of complete mental collapse. I don’t ever want to be admitted to the hospital again.

I need to stop these phone calls from my mother telling me how worried she is about my perfectionism and stress levels. I need to stop these comments from family and friends as my weight continues dropping due to my meticulous exercise and growing disinterest with food as my mood lowers.

At the end of the day, my perfectionism is killing me. I become my own oblivion. I am alienating and ignoring those I care about.

Stories and characters I love go neglected. I love writing and will defend it to the death. Besides, how exactly do you do justice to your work if you’re not doing the work at all unless you believe it’s “good enough” for even a rough draft?

I almost threw up at work yesterday from anxiety because I photocopied some documents improperly. I was sent home. I haven’t slept in days. I’ve been over-exercising and under-eating and just generally, being a recluse most of the time. I miss my family, I’m frustrated with my school situation (they’ve been on strike for over 2 months, imagine all the money I’ve lost!) and this recession is kicking my ass and might even claim my part-time job as it’s next victim. Everything is going to shit and as a perfectionist when your life starts going downhill, and you can’t CONTROL and PERFECT, your first knee-jerk reaction is to either sit around trying to think up the perfect plan out of the situation or go completely BATSHIT INSANE.

I can’t live like this anymore. I can’t do this anymore. It’s ridiculous. Not one 22 year-old should spend their life emphasizing perfection like this. I’ve been living like this so long I can’t even tell where it’s begun but it’s at the point where it’s scaring people (again) so I need to put this thing to rest; even minimally. I need to learn to cope.

I’m gonna have to get this thing in check, ladies and gents.

I’m going to go relax, have some good food, spend some time with people and get help.

All the best to you.


~ by davitacuttita on January 22, 2009.

4 Responses to “Writing: Coming to Terms With My Perfectionism”

  1. davi – it’s me becky and i totally and 100% feel you on this one. as an academic, i have had to really struggle to overcome my perfection issues, it almost stopped me from getting my phd. i went through a lot of the same stress and anxiety that you describe. for people like me it is so difficult – you have to constantly show your writing to other people when it is less than perfect and then accept their criticism and suggestions. if you want some of the tips/hints i have collected around writing email me at my private email that i included when i posted (you should have this, right?)

    i also have a lot of the same practices you describe around cleaning. i organize and re-organize my closet and also my hubbie’s. i clean my kitchen floor EVERY night. some people smoke weed or drink – to deal with stress we clean and organize. i have learned to manaage it and know when i am going to far. my family jokes around that i have OCD. i feel like it is only a dangerous practice if you start to feel too out of control or you can’t function in your normal routine. okay, lecture done!i could go on and on.

  2. Thanks for the comment, becky. I really appreciate it.

    Please check your e-mail inbox.

    I really need to deal…

  3. This is a different Becky…

    Looking at this, and the fact that it’s making you crazy… I actually wonder if you have obsessive compulsive disorder. Have you considered seeing a therapist?

  4. Hello, (different) Becky!

    I’ve actually looked into this and have been in therapy for nearly 3 years due to an accident that gave me a brain injury when I was 19 (see my post “Amnesiac” for details).

    I don’t have OCD as my behaviour isn’t constant or repetitive (I don’t clean the same thing 5x a day for example). I think when I feel stressed my perfectionism just gets the best of me and triggers my anxiety issues which I aquired post-accident.

    Thanks for your concern! I’m working on proper recovery…

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