Thursday, July 6, 2017

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love (When I) Bomb

A Treatise on Perfectionism

My dear friend Erika wrote on Independence Day that she would be declaring independence from a bad habit that was not serving her or her family well. She asked us what we would each declare independence from, and I responded that I was letting go of perfection this year because I was tired of being paralyzed by perfectionism.

Another friend asked me how I was able to let go of perfectionism--which I honestly haven't really been able to shed. It's a work in progress. But this is basically how I, at the ripe young age of 38, am able to make some headway on a lifelong habit of perfection paralysis:

I struggle with perfectionism in my fiction writing for a few reasons:

1. I don't think I deserve to have a voice. Who am I to think I can write fiction?

2. What's in my head never matches up with what comes out on the page.

3. I am an avid consumer of other people's writing, and I notice when it's not perfect--so I worry that other readers will notice when mine is not perfect.

4. Every story that has ever been told has already been told, so what's the point in me writing mine?

5. The eventual heat death of the universe makes all human endeavors ultimately pointless. (I'm only partially joking about this one).

Here's how I am getting over each of these contributors to my perfectionism:

1. I learned that telegraph operators in WWII could be distinguished from each other by their "fist," which is their transmission style when typing out dots and dashes. I learned this years ago, and I've been coming back to this factoid over and over again, because it tells me that we are all unique individuals with unique styles, no matter how mundane the activity is. The fact that an operator's fist could be distinguished from all other operators' fists made me realize that I have a voice that is unlike anyone else's who has ever come before or will ever come again. (And this, my friends, is one of the reasons why I LOVE trivia. You never know what piece of trivia will inspire you).

Each one of these men has a distinct fist, which is as distinct as their voices.
2. I started drawing recently. I draw for fun and relaxation and just because it makes me feel good, so I don't struggle with perfectionism there. And because of that, I've become very comfortable with the fact that my drawing may not look like the object or artwork I'm copying, and that's okay. My drawings just need to look like themselves, and there really are "happy little accidents" a la Bob Ross when it comes to drawing. This has helped me let go of my need to have my head-novel match my page-novel.

Uncle Sam's rocket is falling of the edge of the page, and IT DOES NOT MATTER

Lady Justice's scales are not symmetrical or balanced, and IT DOES NOT MATTER
I also learned from drawing just to skip the shit I don't want to do. I was drawing a building across the street from my art class, and there was a column part that was going to be hard to draw, so I just didn't do it and it didn't matter. With my novel, there was a scene that had kept me from moving forward for 3 or 4 years because it was going to be boring and I didn't wanna do it, so I just skipped that bad boy and did some "time passed" magic to get to the next scene, which I did want to write.

3. I realized that noticing imperfections does not keep me from enjoying stories and good writing. Imperfections are going to happen, because we're human, and I should embrace my imperfect writing, because even Harper EFFING Lee had extensive editing to help her create TKAM. Also, I remembered that picking at imperfections is either the joyful and playful work of fans or the bitter resentment of critics, and I can handle either of those responses.

4. Just because every iteration of the human condition has been told doesn't mean that my story has been told with my voice (and fist), and the only way to tell it is to tell it.

5. The universe is going to end eventually anyway, so why NOT write my shitty novel if it makes me happy? (Not that I think my novel is shitty, although it might be--it's just I have some perspective about how I want to spend my limited time on this rock).

Finally, I've realized that I want to write partially for my boys. I want them to be able to hold a little piece of my soul when I'm gone, and the best way to do that is to do the work that is meaningful to me, which is writing.

And drawing bug-eyed people with maniacal grins.

No comments:

Post a Comment