Every word, every syllable, every turn of phrase.
Nothing out of alignment.
All parts marching blissfully toward the greatest expression that ever existed.
Everything else is crap.
That’s what it’s like living with a perfectionist. I should know. I am one.
It’s fascinating. I couldn’t care less as to how much dust is accumulating on my bookshelves, or whether my cupboards are organized, but when I sit down to complete a task that I place great value on, it had better be perfect.
The pursuit of perfection has positives and negatives. On the positive side, I will always hand in my best work. Anything less is unacceptable. The down side? I am often plagued with unnecessary stress and crippling self-doubt. No one else is telling me my work is shit, or that the essay I handed in was subpar. I am. It’s all self-induced pressure. Fortunately, over the years, I’ve learned to negotiate terms with my inner dominatrix. But recently, I discovered just how detrimental being a perfectionist can be to my writing.
I have a new novel I’ve been working on. I’ve been messing around with it all summer. But now that it’s approaching autumn, I’m no further ahead than I was months ago. Why? Because I was trying to come up with the perfect motivation for my heroine that would propel her actions throughout the entire novel. In my mind, it made sense to set up her sound, logical reasoning right out of the gate. I figured the story would flow much easier. After all, if we both knew (my heroine and I) why she was doing what she was doing, then it would make each witty exchange of dialogue and every dollop of conflict in every scene relevant and poignant.
I hammered out my motivation and then pounded out 10,000 words. Until suddenly, I couldn’t pound out a single word more. My perfect setup hit a road block. What I assumed was perfectly sound, ended up having so many holes in it, it wouldn’t hold up to a bucket of water, let alone a reader’s critical scrutiny.
I became muddled in logic and loop holes. I couldn’t write a single word more. Instead, I spent the next two months trying to fix the leaks. I dug deeper, grabbed the plaster and trowels and taped, patched, and remodelled but I couldn’t get it right. My writing ground to a halt.
Obviously, I had hit upon another failure. At least this time, I realized it early in the process. What if I’d spent a year or two of my life working on this thing only to find out the novel stood on a teetering foundation of paper cards?
I moped about for a bit. Railed against the uselessness of it all. Then, it hit me. If I wanted to write this damn book, I needed to write the scenes I wanted to write, regardless of whether I’d figured out the motivation or not. Perhaps if I just kept chug, chug, chugging along, something would finally click.
I wrote one scene.
It wasn’t perfect, and I knew that meant when it came time for revisions and second, third and hundredth drafts, I would end up changing a whole whack of stuff, but at least I was writing again. I decided this was immeasurably preferable to sitting around and twiddling my thumbs all day.
Then, as if to hammer home the point, I came across an article, which suggested that perfectionism ultimately destroys creativity.
Touché universe, touché.
I got it. No more trying to fit my writing into a neat and tidy box, now I will let the words flow. I’d figure out how they all fit together later.
Maybe it will suck, and nothing will come of it. But, deep down inside, I think I’m on to something. I just need to let go of the wheel and enjoy the ride.