Dancing to the Imperfect Beat of Life

Feb 19, 2021 | Posted by Jennifer


I’ve sometimes wondered if I should begin a Perfectionists Anonymous group. It isn’t uncommon for me to put off projects because I don’t have the time to do them perfectly, whether the project is cleaning out a closet or simply writing a letter to a friend.

Let’s consider the theoretical closet as a case example. If I do decide to dive in, I want to do it thoroughly and properly, so I tackle the imagined closet with gusto, pulling literally everything out of it and charging through it, like Genghis Khan and his Mongol horde plowed through much of Eurasia. I employ a ruthless, take-no-prisoners, weeding-out approach, leaving a trail of destruction in my wake containing uncomfortable shoes, faded or holey t-shirts, skirts that weren’t “my color,” and skinny jeans that were, alas, too skinny to even dare to hope to be worn again. Eventually order regains itself, and my closet emerges squeaky clean, but at what cost? I’m utterly exhausted.

Or I do nothing. The closet burgeons. I can’t find my favorite wedges, and I feel a sense of despair every time I step inside its environs. Either one of those two possibilities could happen. Both result from my perfectionism.

Can you identify? Perfectionism extends beyond the closet, I’m afraid. I know it certainly extended into my instruction. Before I began working with IEW materials, I sat and stewed for a while, concerned that I wouldn’t present the concepts perfectly to my children. And for those first few years after I had begun, I worried that perhaps I wasn’t doing everything absolutely properly. I feared that I might have missed some esoteric IEW Structure and Style principle that would undo my instructional efforts with my precious children. I wanted my writing instruction to be a grand slam homerun every single time. Here’s the thing though. Perfectionism is overrated. Not only that, but it can also be contagious, so we need to be careful that we don’t transmit that attitude to our students.

Experience has given me a 20-20 picture view of my past, and while I can’t change it, I can share some encouragement and wisdom for those of you teaching your own students right now. And here it is. You do not have to have it all perfectly figured out. I’ll say that again. You do not have to have it all perfectly figured out. Writing is an art, not a science. Math has its 2+2, but writing has a virtually limitless expanse of possibilities. Acknowledge the imperfect. Read Andrew Pudewa’s article “The 4 Deadly Errors of Teaching Writing.” Lean on the checklist. Move through the units. Don’t pause for too long. You may not be the perfect teacher, but you are the perfect teacher for your students. Embrace the knowledge that you are an imperfect instructor, and realize that there will be future writing experiences to help solidify those imperfect efforts, both from the instructor as well as from the student. In ensuing years you will become more and more confident, and so will your students.

But here’s the thing: You gotta dive into the pool to get wet. So this is my confessional. I was not the perfect instructor, but I did the best I could. I made mistakes, but when I learned about them, I adjusted my teaching and moved on. And somehow our family emerged on the other side. I must have done okay. They all made it to college, and some of them even chose to go into writing intensive majors.

Still not convinced you can do it? Bring in the support team. IEW has a great series of video-based instructional courses called Structure and Style for Students. Andrew Pudewa does the heavy lifting of instructing your children. You come along as cheerleader and support to your students. It makes the process of teaching writing even more friendly and fun!

Even better, you won’t have any piles of empty hangers or out-of-style pants to deal with, just a sense of accomplishment and likely some great writing experiences as well. Find the beat to your own unique and imperfect rhythm, and begin to dance. You are creating beautiful music.


Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.

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