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how to let go of perfectionism (aka a pig who farts)

how to let go of perfectionism

(3 min read.) I’m not an artist. I can’t draw for squat. I draw like a first-grade kid in art class who’s about to get a D+.

Last week I was a very successful visual artist. Here’s what happened and how it applies to writing. (I’ll even show you my terrible drawing, which I firmly believe you’ll love.)

I was on a Zoom with a group of people and the conversation was pretty challenging. The topic was heavy, the group was feeling pain, and we were all seeing a difficult time ahead. While we chatted, I grabbed a sketchbook and some pens and started doodling, the way you sometimes might do when you’re on the phone. Something to keep my body busy while my brain-in-a-jar talking head did its thing.

The silliest idea popped out of my pen.

Being who I am, I decided to see it through.

So I kept a small percentage of my attention on the paper, maybe four percent, and kept drawing in bits and pieces while our conversation continued.

At the end of the chat, after I thanked everyone for coming, I decide to make an announcement.

“I have some good news. I finished the drawing I’ve been doing this whole time.”

I noticed a few people smile politely.

“It’s a pig who loves to fart.”

I held it up to the camera.

Everyone started laughing. I heard someone snort convulsively with their mic on. Uncensored delight. Shock and awe. I dropped the fartpig hammer and gave the room a completely different energy, lifting us all up as we scattered for the rest of our day.

Was it a solo show at a SoHo gallery? No. Was it successful as a work of art? Absolutely. Would I do it again? I can only dream of capturing another moment of such powerful inspiration.

I have almost no technical skill as a visual artist.

But I knew how to make this drawing and that it was worth sharing, because I know about writing.

When you write, all that matters is that you get the most important thing across.

Nail the HIGHLIGHT.

It didn’t matter that I wasn’t a master of my technique. Even if I had sketched the most elegantly shaded photorealistic pig in the world, with a fart so expertly drawn that you could nearly smell it from the evocatively tinted cloud that seemed to waft from the page, the HIGHLIGHT wouldn’t have been different.

The highlight of the artwork was that it was a pig who loves to fart.

I didn’t need to be Michelangelo to give us the highlight.

I just needed to be willing to embarrass myself in the service of honestly doing the best I could to bring that highlight into a legible state where other people could see it, share in it, and let it change their day.

My job was to give the highlight to the group.

Art is about the highlights.

This week I’m revisiting an old writing project. A stage script from my past. It’s a BEAST. Big and messy. Maybe the most ambitious thing I’ve ever made. Definitely the most technically complex. I open it up every few years and try to fix it. Each time, the script gets a little better. It’s pretty close to “better enough.” This feels like it’s probably (finally) the last round of work. I’ve accepted that it’ll never be perfect, but I’ve narrowed in on the highlight. It’s unmistakeable now. You can see that highlight from outer space.

Is it better art than the pig? It’s certainly bigger. Unlike the farting pig, the script has technically advanced craftsmanship and someone might want to pay to see it. But the same thing matters about both.

They get the highlight across.

They do what they’re for.

They give something to the group.

I can let go of perfectionism because I know the highlight is clear enough that it can change what feels possible in the room for a moment. I want other people to have that moment badly enough that I’m willing to embarrass myself in the attempt. That’s how I’ve been able to let go of perfectionism all through my career as a writer.

I want people to experience the highlight.

So, I’ll show them my art. It’s okay if they see I’m not that skilled. I believe in the play and I believe in the farting pig.

A childish drawing of a pink pig under a sunny sky. It had a red heart floating over its head. A large black and green cloud hovers by its rear end. At the bottom of the image a phrase is written in lowercase scrawl. It reads "pig loves to fart." This example shows how to let go of perfectionism by sharing artwork that is not technically skilled.

(want something practical? try my big monster list of ways to beat procrastination.)

xo, megan

Thanks for giving this a few minutes. I hope it felt supportive.


Writing coach Megan Cohen is a white cis woman with soft femme hair. She wears black but stands in front of a wall covered in brightly colored brainstorming post-it notes. She smiles with closed lips and warm eyes. Her skin is amazing even though she's middle-aged.

I’m a f*ckin’ friendly writing coach.

Let’s see what an hour with me can do for you. Get treated with honesty and respect. Bring your work-in-progress, your goals, or your frustrated blank page. Sliding scale; no ongoing commitment; just an hour to work on your writing. See me in a private zoom to put my 20 years of experience on your side.

curious/confused?: what does a writing coach do (and not do)


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