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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Too Much of a Good Thing


With the exception of chocolate (which you simply can’t get too much of), too much of a good thing can be another of the myriad, subtle forms of resistance.

Obviously, we need to revise, polish and proof our writing before it goes out in the world. Even with the informality of a blog, it makes sense to let a draft rest, then return to do what needs to done to make the writing make sense.

But there comes a point when polishing and proofing go past the point of diminishing returns and become “perfectionation,” which is what I call the procrastination of giving the writing “just one more edit” even when there’s nothing left to edit.

I noticed this is one of the ways I do resistance. When I get an idea for a query for example, I brain dump it and its possible permutations, do some research, then come back and tailor the idea into a query appropriate for the particular publication I have in mind. I revise, I tweak, I polish and proof and polish and proof and polish and proof… and yes, I know I wrote “polish and proof” three times. I’m abbreviating what really happens to spare you the tedium of endless “perfectionation.”

The logic – well the thinking anyway, I don’t know how much logic there is in this – is that I have one chance to grab the editor’s attention and demonstrate that this is something she or he will want. So I’d better make sure I’ve double-checked the guidelines, provided enough evidence to intrigue and convince without giving away too much, crossed all my “t”s, dotted all my “i”s, spell-checked, grammar-checked, etc.

In other words, if I can just make this query perfect enough, I can guarantee it won’t be rejected. It can’t be rejected – I made it perfect.

What better way to avoid rejection than to keep a query (or any other piece of writing) on my To Do list under “Polish and Proof” indefinitely?

Just as there is a point when polishing becomes “perfectionation,” there is a point when research becomes retreat (avoiding having to move forward where something bad might happen like getting rejected or corrected or finding out your idea sucks). Likewise, there is a point when exploring possibilities becomes “possi-debilitating” (crippling yourself by refusing to choose one course of action, again to avoid having to move forward where something bad might happen).

What good thing that any professional writer does as a matter of course do you occasionally take past the point of good writing practice into a form of resistance?

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