Friday, December 11, 2009

Perfectionism—Resisting It

Edmund Charles Tarbell-- Across the Room 1889 I’ve been reading a lot lately about problems that happen when we try to be perfect or apply Type-A standards across the board in our life.

I’m definitely Type-A. Sometimes perfectionism goes along with that (other times I can be more careless.) I have several methods of making my day more stressful than it would ordinarily have been. Before I leave the house for any reason, I go through a very complex routine of questions: Do I need to start a load of laundry before I walk out the door? How about if I load the dishwasher really quick and run it? Oh! Can I run by the library on my way to my meeting? And, if I’m going by the library anyway, I should drop by the bank as well—it’s right there.

Then I run around like a chicken with my head cut off. I leave the house on time, run the errands on time, but if there’s any bad traffic, I’m toast. And then I’m a total stress-bucket because I have to be on time. I’m the most punctual person around. If I’m not on time, I’m somewhere very close by, jogging frantically in your direction.

It would be better instead if I just did the laundry load and the minor errands later on. I’m not raising my blood pressure that way and I’ll end up getting the stuff done later on, anyhow.

Another problem? I’ll think I don’t have time to dust the house. Why? Because I don’t have time to do it the Type-A way. Which involves taking everything off the table, dusting the individual pictures and knick-knacks, and then rubbing the wood down with lemon oil. I want to put off the chore until I have the time to do it right.

But I DO have time to do a quick dusting with the feather duster. And it looks fine. I just have to repress the Type-A urge and the house looks fine and dandy.

Writing a book—the Type-A or Perfectionist way:

I was an editing- as-I-went writer. I wanted every page perfect before going on to the next page.

Honestly? Perfectionism didn’t work for me at all. It took forever to get anywhere. Frequently I’d lose my momentum, my train of thought, or the creative spark.

I learned to tune out my inner editor.

Caveat—not every writer has that problem. But if you feel like your self-editing is holding you back, consider trying a different tack.

Submitting? I was a perfectionist there, too. I must have read 200 articles on querying before I actually did it. I had a tracking program and I was very careful about submitting one thing before submitting another.

It’s good to do research before you submit, definitely. But not so much that you’re immobilized. I had better success when applied what I’d learned as quickly as possible.

I thought originally that writing a book was about inspiration…that the book wouldn’t be good without that creative spark happening every day. I needed to wait for the perfect moment of inspiration to strike.

I learned that it’s more about sitting down and plugging away and going from point A to point B.

There are some things that should be as perfect as we can make them: our grammar and spelling before submitting is one that comes to mind. But trying to make it perfect as we go is another thing.

When perfectionism is especially bad:

It keeps you from working on your book because you’re finding so many faults with your draft.

You’re frustrated at the slow progress of writing your first draft…because you’re editing as you go.

You aren’t submitting because you feel like your manuscript isn’t perfect enough.

Reading other author’s books in your genre makes you feel insecure or immobilized with your own book.

I used to feel that perfectionism had to be a good thing—that it meant I was trying my hardest to do a Good Job. As I get older, I see more of the dark side of perfectionism and am working to be more flexible with myself and my work.

Are you a perfectionist? Do you feel it’s helping you or hurting you?