I gave a presentation at a recent literacy conference entitled “Perfectionism and the Gifted Writer.” As I was researching to make sure my strategies had basis in best practice and not just stuff that had worked for me in the past, I came across a list of words that described perfectionists.

One that keeps popping back into my head is this one:


When I initially considered how on earth that word could relate to kids, to gifted writers in particular, I couldn’t see it. But the more I thought, and the most introspective I became about my own writing life, I realized that in fact, it’s a huge part of perfectionism.

For young writers, their story has to be longer, more intricate, with hundreds of chapters, and illustrations, and myriad plot points. Young gifted children’s explanations, written or otherwise are often more infused with detail, reasons, or facts (relevant or not). Their projects are bigger, with more moving parts, huge ideas that we can’t possibly create on our own but can’t explain what we want.

A friend’s child noted on the drive home recently that she hates art. She’s a wonderful artist, with years of beautiful art pieces hanging throughout their home showing her progression as an artist. Her reason? Art isn’t perfect the first time. It takes constant revision and change to become what it is you see in your head…that which you’ve committed to creating.

We overcommit so easily, even as children…

I find now as an adult, the overcommitting is so very real and happening almost daily. It’s no longer taking 21 credit hours and working 2 full time jobs. Now it’s task based. Sure, I’ll make that phone call, write that letter, handle that situation, meet with that family. Of course I’ll be happy to go to that meeting for you, write that op-ed, review those comments, cover your class, clean up that mess. Yes, I’ll take on that role, wear that hat, and of course I’ll do those tasks on behalf of others who aren’t able to. I have so many hours in the day, just like everyone else, but yes, I’ll do that for you, lest you be disappointed or let down.

I began this day with high hopes for productivity, and while I got some of the tasks on my list taken care of, others again ended up on the back burner, and now I’m unable to prioritize any of it because I’ve overcommitted so much, and in the eyes of everyone around me, their needs ought to be the most important even if they aren’t saying it out loud. The eyes of a colleague rolling when I try to explain that no, I can’t handle that right this second because I have x, y, and z to take care of right now hurt. I never thought of people rolling their eyes and letting out that disappointed sigh as having a physical hurt attached to it…but today it did. There’s a pain in my heart and my head that wasn’t there earlier today.

So after dismissal, I will pack up my computer and planner and the dog’s knuckle bone and take my dog home, where I will pop an aspirin or cry (not sure which will help the headache more right now), go for a walk because once again we are having false spring, take a nap, and eat something reasonable before falling asleep early.

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