The Malady Of Perfectionism

Just write.  I see the motivational posts daily on Twitter and Pinterest.  Write write write write write.  And not wanting to fail, I pull up my novel that sat all summer due to the kids being home and distracting me, and reread the last chapter I had finished.  I was at a loss of where to pick the story back up and I read it to get the momentum going again.  It’s okay.  Not my best writing, but I liked some of it, and reminded myself if was just the first draft and it was suppose to be shitty.  But I got hung up on how I didn’t like the dialogue, and I began to revise it.  And it took me three days of trying-to-write-while-kids-are-in-school-house-needs-to-be-cleaned-pick-kids-up-from-school-fix-dinner-and-take-to-hockey-practice to get it all rewritten.  The husband says that it’s cool to see me writing again and wants to know how far I’ve gotten over the past week, and I told him that I was still on Chapter Three.  He reminded me that I wrote Chapter Three months ago and I said I know, and told him about how I re-read it to get back into the game and hated the dialogue and changed it.  He got this look on his face and states: “YOU CAN’T DO THAT!!!”

Immediately filled with shame, I admitted that I know this, and admitted that it’s one of my biggest flaws – wanting drafts to be perfect before I move on.  I have to continually remind myself what Anne Lamott said in her book, Bird By Bird: “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people.  It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.”  I know these words to be gospel, as well as I know that if I touch a hot pan on the stove that I’m going to get burned, and yet I still find myself getting caught up in the temptation of going back to reread, revise, and perfect.  How do I fight this temptation?


Then the husband told me about how back in college in his various science labs how they were required to keep detailed notes, and they weren’t allowed to erase anything in their lab journals, because they ran the risk of erasing something that worked, even if at the time it seemed to be all wrong.  He told me to stop revising and start the new chapter.

I have to admit, it was pretty sound advice – treating my story like a science experiment.  Write it all down, finish it, and then go back and see if it worked. Bad habits can be hard to change though, and temptation can be hard to resist, but I’m never going to succeed if I continue to let my need for perfectionism control me.  How do I fight this temptation?  Perhaps I need to follow the advice of the lovely Queen Elsa and let it go…



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