Perfectionism and Competitiveness: Are You a Winner or a Loser?

winningHas perfectionism or competitiveness ever strangled the joy out of your muse? Both traits can be creative suicide for a writer—or, at the very least, they can rob you of a much needed desktop Snoopy Dance.

Example: Today, I received an email from Jessica Strawser, editor of Writer’s Digest. I felt a flutter of excitement and knew it had something to do with the results of the competition I entered back in May. The subject line “Your Self Published Book Entry” was a pretty solid clue I was right. My muse whispered, “Get ready to dance. It must be good news or you wouldn’t have gotten an email.”

So, I opened the email and read: “One of my most enjoyable tasks as editor of Writerโ€™s Digest is passing along good news to writers. This is one of those fun occasions. It is my pleasure to tell you that your book, The Break-Up Diet: A Memoir in the Life Stories category, has been chosen as an Honorable Mention in the Writerโ€™s Digest 17th Annual International Self-Published Book Awards. Your book will be promoted in the March/April issue of Writer’s Digest. In addition, you will receive a letter, a Notable Award Certificate and $50 worth of Writer’s Digest Books.”

When I read the words “honorable mention,” my heart sank. It felt like I’d received a thanks-for-participating ribbon like the ones handed out in grade school. Instead of elation, I immediately told my muse she would have to work harder next time. Write a better book. Tell a more compelling story. Something. Something to make it win. It didn’t matter to me that there were probably hundreds of writers who didn’t receive an email at all. It mattered that my book wasn’t good enough to win.

Yes, I am self-aware enough to understand that my reaction is self-flagellation. My perfectionism and competitiveness are the same personality traits that made me hound my university English professor about why I received an A- in one of her classes and an A in the other. Why the A- grade? What could I have done differently? Better?

I know I’m tough on myself and I’m competitive. I believe there is always room for improvement—in anything and everything I do. But today, I realized how much joy I lose when I let those tendencies run roughshod over the moments I should be celebrating: the milestones, the acknowledgments, the good reviews, etc.

So, I’ve decided that when I receive my March/April issue, I’m going to frame the magazine page my book title appears on as a reminder to be joyful and grateful for my accomplishments. And I’m looking forward to expanding my writing craft library with my $50 worth of WD books!

Ok, dear readers, I showed you mine, so what are your writer demons?

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Published by Annette Fix

Annette's Paper Trail is a collection of writing, publishing, and promotion related blog posts, writing craft articles, interviews with authors and publishing industry professionals, and resources complied by Annette Fix.

16 thoughts on “Perfectionism and Competitiveness: Are You a Winner or a Loser?

  1. Thanks for the congrats, Sandy. I was surprised to see this post resonate with so many writers. It’s good to know I’m not the only neurotic writer out there. LOL

  2. Wow. Hey Jane! It was nice of you to pop over to my little blog and take the time to post a comment. Thank you so much for the encouragement (and for the honorable mention)! ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’ve already browsed the WD bookstore and have made a list of my prize books. Very excited. Receiving the box will be like Christmas—when you get exactly what you want. ๐Ÿ˜€

  3. Dear Annette,

    Undoubtedly, every writer wants to be at the top of the pack — and that competitive instinct helps us do better next time and prevents us from resting on our laurels.

    Yet, as a Writer’s Digest editor since 2001, I just wanted to let you know that it’s extremely difficult to achieve honorable mention in this particular contest. We only select the titles we find particularly worthy.

    While not 1st place, I hope the recognition provides some encouragement that you’re doing something right. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Best wishes & good luck!

    Jane Friedman
    Publisher, Writer’s Digest

  4. Losers?! There’s no such thing. We’re all hopeful participants. And as Margo mentioned, judging contests is so subjective. I’ve judged flash fiction contests for a couple years and when two stories were equally well written and engaging, it just came down to which story resonated with me personally.

    WD is supposed to send out the gift certificates/credit for the WD books in Dec. I haven’t yet checked the list of titles to see what I want. I may just mosey over to their site and do that now…

  5. I heard that all the winners have been alerted by emails already. But for losers, they will receive a letter rating the plot, character, book design etc. I haven’t received it yet but I’m in Australia so it may take a while. Maybe next year I’ll fare better. BTW, I entered a sci fi.

    Keep us posted when you receive the prize. Congratulations again!

    Bargain with the Devil

  6. Thanks, Enid! =) But don’t mourn your loss just yet. I have no idea what their notification schedule is. Maybe they notified the HMs first and are saving the first place category winners and grand prize winner until the issue releases in March to keep it a surprise. =)

  7. Ruth,

    Somehow I missed your comment! Thank you for doing a cyber Snoopy Dance for me. It’s great when writers support each other through the high and low times. And we can use our framed awards to beat our writer demons to death! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. Allena – Oh girl. You’re singing my song! But for me, it’s not resentment; it’s guilt. Sometimes I treat writing like a gift I give myself if I get everything else done. Of course, I put myself last on the list and skip exercise until I’ve “earned” the me-time. More often than not, I’m just polarized by it all and I don’t do any of it–I waste hours online reading and responding to email and listserv posts, commenting on social networks and reading blog after blog. Sometimes I think if I had better time management, I could accomplish everything I need to do.

    Jodi – It’s good that you can laugh. I’m still working on that.

    Margo – Thanks for the reminder. You’re so right about the subjectivity. And on a rational level, I know this, but the rational me didn’t open the email. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’m keeping a positive outlook about it now (at least until it kills me). LOL

    You’re in good company. I think all writers are neurotic in one way or another. I think it’s the blessing and curse of the creative beast. =)

  9. Oh Annette, first of all, I do know what you are saying about the honorable mention thing–I have felt it too. But the thing is that you have been a judge/editor yourself, so you know a portion of picking a winner is subjective. Your book is obviously well-written and funny and inspiring to many, many, many women, and the judges obviously recognized that. But another self-published book might have hit home to them more due to subject matter and their own lives. That’s the problem with humans–we try to be objective, but we can’t always do it. I am proud of you for realizing this about yourself and for sharing it with the world because I’ve felt like this before, too. And I’m sure I am not the only one. It is way worse when you don’t win anything at all. . .:)

    I think I have every demon that people mentioned here. OMG, what is wrong with me? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Congrats again. Remind us on PG and Twitter when the issue is out, so we can all go get a copy and see your book. Think of all the new readers you will get!!!!! (And editors at publishing houses who will see this.)


  10. Yup yup and yup! At least it’s good to know I’m in good company. I got my green-eyed monsters, my blond-haired blue-eyed monsters … and a snippy chick who’s clearly not left fifth grade.

    I like the days I can laugh at them!

  11. I have a big demon, Annette. I’m serious. You ready? Mine is resentment.

    Whenever a writer accomplishes something that I want to accomplish, I resent all the things in life that keep me from getting there.

    We talked about this on Facebook.

    I want to have solid children, and I do, they’re above average academically, they have no issues, these are two children who I have no doubts about in life.

    I want to be thin and pretty. I spend a lot of time keeping my body healthy.

    I want to have a great marriage, and we take weekends and dates together and lay around on the couch watching videos and it works.

    But all these above things kill my other thing…. my writing. If I am working out, I’m not writing. If I’m being mom, I’m not working out. If I’m blank, I’m not blank. I can’t win. ROUGH DAY@

  12. Heiddi,

    Thanks for the congrats and for sharing your writer demon. I think we all struggle with self-doubt. Mine often rides the teeter totter with delusions of grandeur. ๐Ÿ˜‰ “This is great!” “This sucks!” This is great!” “This sucks!” LOL

  13. Annette,

    Wonderful post! And I understand that a first place would have made for a bigger Snoopy Dance, but you get to dance, just the same. I’m thrilled for you! And framing your award when it comes is a wonderful idea. I’ve decided to do that myself. I think you’re right – we all need to have those reminders of why we do this and what we’ve accomplished.

    I’m Snoopy Dancin’ all over the place for you!


  14. Hi Annette,

    First off, congratulations on the Honorable Mention. I can only hope my writing will earn one of those nods. ๐Ÿ™‚ I have to say my writer demon has always been self-doubt. I can encourage other writers to follow their writing dreams (hence, The Freshman Writer site, lol), but have such a hard time putting my work out there to be published. I usually don’t send anything out for magazines. I have a blogging job about parenting (which is a niche of mine), but I haven’t done anything for a print magazine, yet. I’m hoping that as time goes on, I can overcome this dreaded fear of rejection. I write regularly too and come up with all sorts of ideas. But that stupid voice in my head that tells me “you CAN’T do this” has been keeping me from submitting my work, even though I know it’s good writing. So, yeah, I totally understand where you’re coming from. Thanks for letting me share and congratulations again. ๐Ÿ™‚

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