Thursday, September 1, 2011

Perfection Perspective

We have all seen a perfectionist at work. Someone who dots and crosses all the right letters and always leaves a room tidier than when she walked in.

The psycho serial killer on television who always lines his pencils up just so on the desk and considers everything in his bizarre and whacked world to be squared and precise. In control. Perfect.

As a former Weight Watcher's Leader, I know that another form of perfectionism relates to body image. "If I can't be perfect, why bother?"

But none of these describe Peg Brantley. Even though I learned as a child that if I was going to do something, I'd better do it right. And even though I was told that while babysitting the neighbor's kids, I'd better clean the kitchen and dust and vacuum and do whatever else needed doing in the house (and do it right), I felt I had a good handle on the difference between doing something right and being a perfectionist.

So I thought.

When my friend, Kel, and I had lunch yesterday, I realized that releasing a book by the end of the year just wasn't possible. I mean, it's September. So I told her next spring.

And then, this morning, while writing my morning pages, it occurred to me that not only was I doubting myself, I was doubting God (who I love to believe is my partner and makes things go well) not to shoot for the end of the year.

Naturally, I felt bad, but that's an entirely different discussion.

I decided to challenge myself, wrote that I needed to finish the first draft of Rough Waters (the story I'm working on now) before I began editing Irrefutable Proof—just to make sure I had a handle on RW before setting it aside for a bit.

I decided I wanted to have the first draft finished by the end of the month. All systems were green. I got that goose-bumpy feeling we all get when we've made a decision and are ready to charge, full-steam ahead.

I wrote these thoughts down and then said something to the effect that it had become important to me that my first drafts not be, as Anne Lamott calls them, "shitty first drafts", because then it's almost like writing from scratch when I go back to edit. (It isn't of course, but hey . . . my rationalizatin is able to twist things up just as well as the next guy's.) I was telling myself that I needed to do it right, completely negating the fact that it is after all, a first draft.

Does "getting it right" mean it has to be perfect?

After writing this bold new plan down (and almost sabotaging it in the same breath) I opened up The Artist's Way (which I highly recommend) to read.

One of the things that TAW has taught me to be open to is the wonder of synchronicity. These are all from Week 7 (highlights are mine):

Perfectionism has nothing to do with getting it right. It has nothing to do with fixing things. It has nothing to do with standards. Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move ahead.

We correct our originality into a uniformity that lacks passion and spontaneity. "Do not fear mistakes," Miles Davis told us. "There are none."

Instead of enjoying the process, the perfectionist is constantly grading the results.

To the perfectionist, there is always room for improvement. The perfectionist calls this humility. In reality, it is egotism.

Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough—that we should try again.

"A painting is never finished. It simply stops in interesting places," said Paul Gardner.

If you want to know how messed up I can get if I don't pay attention, my post for Friday on Crime Fiction Collective is about procrastination.

Go figure.

It's all better with friends.


  1. Oh, Peg, thank you for reminding me of TAW. I read it years ago, dabbled in it a couple of times in the last decade, and now, finally, I think it's time to read it again.

    Good wishes on your WIP -- I see it getting published in time!

  2. Fran, TAW sat on my bookshelf for at least a decade. I have not taken the time to complete all of the tasks, but the next time I go through the book (probably next year) I'll focus on those.

    Thanks for your good wishes!

  3. It's all better with friends that slap you and tell you to get going! You are READY!

  4. I've got to read The Artist's Way. I believe it's something I need. I have trouble letting go.:)
    Also, friend, I hope you get things together and your book is out by the end of the year. I want to read it.

  5. You will love THE ARTIST'SS WAY. It's a workbook, but one I thoroughly enjoy, and will revisit again and again.

  6. I don't often read workbooks, but I love The Artist's Way.
    Good luck with the WIP!

  7. Good thing I'm not a perfectionist. Still, no matter how many times I edit, I always find something to change. At some point, I just give up.

    Morgan Mandel