Thursday, September 3, 2015

Perfectionism & Vulnerability, A Tough Combination for Writers

by Lynn Blackburn @LynnHBlackburn

There are a few things I know about myself. I don’t like them, but I know they are true.

I’m a perfectionist and I don’t like feeling vulnerable.

But I kept hearing about this author and researcher, Dr. Brené Brown, who has a couple of insanely popular TED talks where she discusses her research.

Guess what she researches?

Vulnerability, shame, and she throws in some really nice stuff about perfectionism in there as well.

The TED talks left me wanting to delve deeper into the ideas she presented so I requested her books at my local library. Daring Greatly came in first, so it’s the first one I read, followed by The Gifts of Imperfection.

In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown encourages the reader to embrace vulnerability and imperfection, to live wholeheartedly and to courageously engage in our lives. She got the title from the famous Teddy Roosevelt speech where he says, “It is not the critic who counts…The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…”

She contends that the only way to dare greatly is not to make ourselves tougher or harder, but to embrace vulnerability, which she defines as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.

Yeah…that’s not the kind of thing most of us seek out, much less embrace! Who wants uncertainty? Who wants to risk failure? And if it’s all the same to you, I’ll limit my emotional exposure to the bare minimum, thank you very much.

Except…I want to write.

And writing, good writing anyway, requires vulnerability.

I know that if I’m unwilling to be authentic, to take risks, to spend weeks, months, years working on a project with no guarantee anyone will be willing to publish it…then maybe this writing gig isn’t for me.

But, I do want to write. I can’t not write.

Enter Wholeheartedness.

This is the term Brené Brown has coined for people who are able to live lives defined by courage, compassion, and connection—all of which require embracing vulnerability.

Dr. Brown discusses Wholehearted living in depth in The Gifts of Imperfection where she highlights ten Guideposts to living a life of Wholeheartedness. These are things like Letting Go of Perfectionism and Letting Go of Self-Doubt and “Supposed To” and, Letting Go of Being Cool and “Always in Control.”

These books were not written specifically for writers, but applications to the writing life are found throughout both volumes.

See if this resonates with you (from the chapter on Letting Go of Self-Doubt) - “Squandering our gifts brings distress to our lives. As it turns out, it’s not merely benign or “too bad” if we don’t use the gifts that we’ve been given; we pay for it with our emotional and physical well-being. When we don’t use our talents to cultivate meaningful work, we struggle. We feel disconnected and weighed down by feelings of emptiness, frustration, resentment, shame, disappointment, fear, and even grief.”

Or maybe this quote from Daring Greatly may stir something in you …“When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make. Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.”

I don’t know about you, but these sound like the very kinds of struggles writers face every day.

To be sure, these books aren’t the type of books you read once and have a full grasp of the subject. There is no way for me to adequately explain the information in just a few hundred words. But I do believe these are valuable books to add to your writing toolbox. If you decide to explore these subjects further, I’d recommend watching the TED talks first, then reading The Gifts of Imperfection and then Daring Greatly.

The Gifts of Imperfection was a fairly easy read, but Daring Greatly is more densely packed and presents more unfamiliar material and terminology that, at least for me, made for a much slower processing speed.

My guess is that if you dive in, you’ll find multiple applications and takeaways for your own life, but even if you don’t, you’ll be able to use these concepts to further develop the characters in the worlds you create.

Either way, these books can help you get—and stay—in the arena.

And that’s where we all need to be.

Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Perfectionism & Vulnerability, a tough combination for writers - @LynnHBlackburn (Click to Tweet)

Letting go of perfect & embracing vulnerable - @LynnHBlackburn on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Lynn Huggins Blackburn believes in the power of stories, especially those that remind us that true love exists, a gift from the Truest Love. She’s passionate about CrossFit, coffee, and chocolate (don’t make her choose) and experimenting with recipes that feed both body and soul. She lives in South Carolina with her true love, Brian, and their three children. You can follow her real life happily ever after at


  1. Lynn, I was a perfectionist, then I got fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. Who knows, the stress I caused myself by my constant need for order and my ideology of everything looking like a fairy tale might have wreaked havoc on my body. I was forced to slow down and chose what chore was accomplished that day. It drove me to the Lord. Writing my raw and realistic blog has helped me heal. Vulnerability has given me freedom. Thank you for yours.

    1. I *LOVE* this. "Vulnerability has given me freedom." Beautiful! Thank you for sharing!

  2. I love Brene Brown! I've listened to her teachings several times.

    Brilliant post, Lynn. I've never connected all of this with writing. Just brilliant!

    Thank you.

    1. I think I see the connection because writing is where my creativity and vulnerability meet. Or crash into each other... :) Thanks for stopping by!!

  3. As a perfectionist as well as a self-critical person, your post resonated with me. I need to read both of those books. Will pin to my Author Spotlight. Thank you!