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Productive Writer No. 18


Still Trying to be Perfect?


The myth of the perfect dissertation creates problems for graduate students." Is Sternberg (1981) describing you? 

No dissertation or book is ever perfect. Every writer and author can think of changes they would make in a finished or published manuscript. After a few drafts, further revisions may produce a different manuscript, but not always a better one, according to Sternberg. "One is reminded of Camus' character in The Plague, who spends his life rewriting the first sentence of his novel--endless versions of horses trotting down the Champ Elysees" (p. 160).

There is another reason you may be a perfectionist that has very little to do with making your writing perfect, and everything to do with procrastination. Luey (2004) describes this when she addresses writer's block: "What most people call writer's block is a variety of minor intellectual or procedural disturbances. the inability to stop fussing about details." You don't produce much new content because you think there are so many flaws in what you've already written that you are compelled to work endlessly to fix them. "This is...a form of procrastination; it's much easier to fix what's written than to create something new. Fight the temptation" (p. 137-138). 

If you haven't written any perfectly fine (but less-than-perfect) new words today, then set a goal of 500 to 800 new words, and get started.


Jan Allen, Associate Dean

Academic and Student Affairs

Cornell Graduate School