Frustrated individual at computer

Perseverance, not Perfection

Hard to believe four years have passed while working for Antioch’s Virtual Writing Center. I learned a great deal from staff, fellow tutors, and students, but perhaps the biggest lesson has been letting go of some of my perfectionist tendencies.

Perfectionism has always been an issue, resulting from an internal push rather than external expectations. Especially when it comes to writing. I don’t have this expectation when reading others’ work, but always felt that my own writing had to immediately come out as a finished product. Unfortunately, that’s not typical. In fact, one dissertation chapter is currently on version 17 – and I’m (mostly) okay with that.

A friend recently suggested I read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life because we share the same sense of humor and enjoyment of writing. Ironically, I read Lamott’s chapter on perfectionism before writing this post. I won’t spoil it for those who may want to read it, but will paraphrase Lamott’s suggestion about approaching a writing assignment about birds by tackling one bird at a time rather than the whole flock all at once. She also notes that ““…perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness…” (p. 28).

Overcoming perfectionism has been an integral part of my time at the VWC. I’ve truly enjoyed watching students progress through first, second, and third drafts – and felt privileged to be part of it. I’ve been inspired and impressed as individuals developed confidence with their writing – and wondered, why don’t I give myself the same type of credit? Through feedback and practice, I’ve developed my own confidence and skill. And while I admit that frustration and impatience are still part of my process, I’ve also discovered that I enjoy seeing my own work progress over time. So here’s to Lamott’s gentle reminder to continue to approach writing “bird by bird.”

Tammy Cloutier
Virtual Writing Center Staff
Antioch University