Durgesh Pratap's Blog

The Perfection Paralysis of an Indian Writer

Written By: Durgesh Pratap
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Table of Contents

Explore the journey of overcoming Perfection Paralysis, uncovering the roots of self-doubt and fear of judgment.

While I was grappling with my inner critic this Sunday morning, I heard a knock on the door.

It was Vinod.

He had called me last night about his troubles with writing. I told him to meet me today, at my home to discuss the issue.

But, it’s me, after all, occupied with dozens of other things. I forgot.

An acquaintance, but not a friend. Yes, not a friend. Vinod met me a couple of years back at a local snooker club.

Vinod, an emerging writer and blogger, published a book last year through KDP. He believes that I am an expert when it comes to writing (which I am not) and online ventures.

He took his share of space on the couch and picked up the TV remote. Not to watch television but just to play with the remote.

Some folks have this strange habit of picking things up and playing with them. They rarely realize that the owner is watching and wants their stuff not to be disturbed.

Before he could do any damage to the remote, I took it from him, feigning to switch on the TV, and diverted his attention to the topic we were about to discuss. I asked him about his issue with writing.

“I am not able to publish them on my blog. Several drafts on several other topics, some finished, some unfinished, and some in editing. I read them and find it may not be worth publishing them now. I don’t feel confident to publish them. Have I lost my confidence?” Vinod said.

I looked at him and took a deep breath, realizing that this subject would take time.

Knowing exactly what was happening to him, I said, “My friend, you have not lost your confidence, but you are experiencing Perfection Paralysis.”

“Perfection Paralysis? What’s that?” he asked.

“Yes, Perfection Paralysis. It’s a condition that has stung not only you but many creatives throughout time.” I said.

“This paralysis has affected some of the most prolific writers, painters, poets, and many others. When bitten by Perfection Paralysis, one can feel a strange restlessness, unable to focus on anything. It hinders sleep and creates doubt within. Constant inner voices echo in your head, telling you that you are not good enough. You may feel an urge to speak your mind, but the voice is gone.” I explained what I had been through a few years back.

“Ohhh, you get it. Yes, it feels the same,” Vinod said and picked up my car keys from the table, finding a new item to fidget with.

I stood from my sofa and said, “Wait, I will get coffee, and we can figure out a solution to your Perfection Paralysis.”

When I came back with the coffee and a notepad, to my relief, the car keys were back on the table.

“I will ask a few questions to dive deep into what is causing your Perfection Paralysis. Each individual has different reasons for their perfection paralysis. Let’s figure out yours,” I said, handing him the coffee mug. “All I need is your honest answer to brainstorm the issue.”

Vinod nodded in agreement, and we began the questionnaire.

This is my analysis of the Perfection Paralysis experienced by an Indian writer and the possible solutions I came up with.

If you are experiencing similar symptoms, then you might find this insightful.

Chapter 1: The Fear of Getting Judged for Language

The Fear of Getting Judged for Language
Image generated by canva AI by the writer

I discovered Vinod had a fear that readers from native English-speaking countries would judge him for imperfections in his English.

Below, you can read his responses and learn how I helped him rethink his fear of judgment for language usage.

My Question: Do you think people will judge you for your writing?

His Answer: Yes, I fear readers will judge my writing. They might think I need to improve at writing in the English language.

My Question: Why do you believe they might conclude you are bad at writing?

His Answer: Because I am not a native English speaker. They might read it and not find it well-written due to grammatical errors. They could rate it poorly and won’t read my other works.

My Question: How did you pick up this fear? Was there any specific feedback or comment?

His Answer: I think it was always in me, but one review of my book ignited the fire. The review primarily mentioned that there are a lot of flaws with my English and the sentence structure is bad.

My advice on how to let go of the fear of being judged for not being a native speaker:

First, I addressed the fear of writing for native speakers and then provided guidance on handling negative comments and reviews.

Addressing the Native and Non-Native English Speakers Issue:

When it comes to writing and publishing anything in English, it’s common to prioritize native English-speaking readers and potentially neglect non-native English-speaking readers.

There might be an assumption that readers, primarily from the United States, Britain, or Canada, will read your writing.

However, the facts tell a different story. A large proportion of English-language readers are non-native speakers.

According to research published on 10th Jan 2023 at lemongrad.com, there are 1453 million people (combining native and non-native) who speak English.

Of these, 373 million are native speakers, and 1080 million are non-native speakers.

Thus, the percentage is around 25% native English speakers and 75% non-native English speakers.

373 million are native speakers, and 1080 million are non-native speakers.
Screenshot from lemongrad.com by the writer

Let me share three additional facts about our country, India, in terms of reading:

  1. India is the second-largest English-speaking country in the world.
  2. This positions India as the leading country globally when it comes to non-native English speakers.
  3. Finally, India ranks number one in the world for reading books.

In fact, if you consider any worldwide bestseller and examine its sales, you will find an enormous number of readers from India and other non-native English-speaking countries.

English is a global language; it is the voice of the Internet. Move past this native and non-native dichotomy.

Don’t be hard on yourself; there is no point in feeling judged for language, as it is inconsequential.

Handling Negative Comments:

Vinod developed a fear of being judged because of one review. His book had 20 more positive reviews, but he focused solely on that one negative review.

Here is what I advised him to do about it:

Hire a good editor to review your book and edit it once again. If there is an issue, it must be addressed.

Next, I suggested he go to Amazon and find one of his favorite writers’ fiction and non-fiction books. These should be highly successful, possibly bestsellers, and published by major traditional publishing companies.

The rationale behind this is that the selected books would have undergone multiple rewrites, proofreads, and edits, having been scrutinized by expert editors.

Then, I advised him to read the most critical reviews of these books and try to understand why they received such harsh feedback.

Vinod chose Atomic Habits by James Clear and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman for this exercise. After reading the negative reviews of these books, he realized that his negative reviews are nothing in comparison to them.

Don’t take reviews too seriously. Let the critics do their job, and you do yours.

Chapter 2: The Desire for Praise from Readers for Your Work

The Desire for Praise from Readers for Your Work
Generated by Canva AI by the writer

We all seek praise for our work, and Vinod was no different. I have battled hard with my inner self and somehow conquered over it.

However, it resurfaces, so I constantly remind myself of this mantra: “The Score Will Take Care Of Itself” (More on this another day).

My Question: Are you writing to impress the readers? Please tell me in detail about what you wish your readers to feel about your writing.

His Answer: Yes, I want to impress the reader with my writing. I want them to follow me, recommend me to other readers, share my articles on social media, and, if possible, buy my book. That kind of stuff.

My Question: To impress readers, have you tried to write like successful writers or sound like others?

His Answer: Yes, I try to draw inspiration from others. And sometimes, I read articles that are highly successful and well-received by readers. It feels safe writing the same way.

My Advice on Writing to Impress and Sounding Like Other Successful Writers

It is common for any writer, when starting their writing career to try to sound like others and have a desire to impress the reader. Here is my takeaway on the subject

Writing to Impress

I appreciated his honesty about writing to impress. But before I share my thoughts, I would like to introduce a quote from David Bowie on this topic.

“Always remember that the reason that you initially started working was that there was something inside yourself. That you felt that if you could manifest it in some way, you would understand more about yourself and how you coexist with the rest of society. I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfill other people’s expectations. They generally produce their worst work when they do that. ” — David Bowie, English singer, songwriter, musician, and actor.

I want you to shift your perspective from “Writing to Impress” to “Writing to Help.”

Fiction: I understand you write stories, and “help” may be more applicable to guides or advice. True, but not entirely.

If you are writing a fictional piece, you may help your reader escape reality for a moment and dive into your story. You help them by making them feel better or surprise them with a twist.

Non-Fiction: If you write advice pieces, try to assist a few people who need your help with your expertise or experience, keeping only one person or a small group in mind.

If you try to help everyone with your writing, you will end up helping no one.

Sounding Like Others

Your inner desire to be liked by readers will lead you on a journey where you will seek validation. In order to do that, you will try to sound like other successful writers.

And then, you try to perfect your words, adopting their style and vocabulary, thinking if it worked for them, it may work for you, too.

The problem with this approach is your inner critic starts a constant comparison in the back of your mind. You will feel your work is not good enough compared to others and often lacks something you can’t identify.

But can you compare the writing of Charles Bukowski with Neil Gaiman’s?

Charles Bukowski and Neil Gaiman sitting together
Bukowski and Gaiman generated by canva AI by the writer

No, you can’t because it is pointless.

Bukowski is very direct in his writing, defying most textbook writing rules, whereas Gaiman is more vivid and descriptive.

Both are highly successful but completely opposite. Each writer has developed their own unique style over time.

I don’t mean you shouldn’t strive to write as well as you can, but the comparison should be from your previous draft to the next draft.

Chapter 3: The Fear of Rejection

The writer having the fear of rejection
Image generated by canva AI by the writer

Vinod feared writing in his own style because it was not validated yet. He felt that if he wrote what he wanted to write and in the way he wanted to write, readers would reject it.

However, he needed to let go of that fear. To help him do so, I asked him further about it.

My Question: Why don’t you write in your own style?

His Answer: I fear that if I write how I want, people will reject my writing because they are not used to it.

My Question: That means you also have a fear of rejection?

His Answer: Yes, because the fear of rejection is related to the fear of getting judged. Readers will judge me for the style and ultimately reject my writing.

My Advice to Combat the Fear of Rejection

From Stephen King to J. K. Rowling, everyone encountered multiple rejections on their writing journey. I know you have heard these stories multiple times.

But what about this one? All the bestselling authors face rejection every day from various readers.


You are in a bookstore seeking your next read. You pick one from the shelf in your preferred genre.

A brief look at the cover and the synopsis at the back. If it makes sense to you, then a quick glance through a few pages, skimming the first chapter. And you are not interested. Back to the shelf, it goes.

Here comes the rejection from the reader to the celebrated, award-winning, bestselling author.

Not even Stephen King is selling his books to every horror lover. The space is occupied by multiple other authors, even writers you haven’t heard of.

Here is a quote from Anne Lamott that you must read and perhaps save on your desktop. Refer to it whenever perfectionism stings you:

“I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” ― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Chapter 4: The Root of Perfectionism: The Theory of Reward and Punishment

The image of 2 men accepting reward and punishment
Image generated by canva AI by the writer

Upon deeper reflection, I discovered that the root cause of Perfection Paralysis is the theory of Reward and Punishment.

When we are kids, we receive rewards for our small successes and face punishment for our failures. If you score high in exams, you will be rewarded, and if, by chance, you fail, you will be punished. This punishment often takes the form of shame, something nobody likes to endure.

You must have heard in your childhood about the neighbor’s kid scoring the highest marks or being promised a new video game if you scored high. This theory is practiced so much from childhood that it holds a permanent space in your head.

All the decisions you make are based on this theory. What will I get if I choose to do this? Reward or Punishment?

You may be surprised to know that it’s not the punishment that paralyzes you but the fear of that punishment, which often involves feeling ashamed and imagining the worst after failure.

Your brain functions in a manner that it always rejects anything that it feels will hurt you. And if the brain thinks that writing this article will bring you shame, it paralyzes you from writing.

Unfortunately, the only cure is to fail so many times that you learn to fail better. To do so, you must write and publish repeatedly until failure no longer haunts you and you stop caring about the results.

Final Takeaway

Shift your idea of reward and punishment. Getting rejections and negative reviews is not a punishment, and receiving praise for your writing is not a reward.

Instead, writing in itself is a reward, and keeping your thoughts only to yourself is the punishment.

Birds sing at dawn without any expectation or fear. They sing because it brings them joy, just as you will find with your writing.

About The Author

Durgesh Pratap is a versatile entrepreneur engaged in video production, advertising, writing, and digital marketing. Known for his diverse skill set, he writes about maintaining productivity and focus in both business and life, sharing insights from his multi-faceted career. His work inspires others to balance diverse interests and succeed in the dynamic world of entrepreneurship.