Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Nobody's Perfect?

There are several things in life that I half ass. I hate to admit it, but it’s the truth. I’m okay with half ass when it comes to things that really don’t mean anything in the grand plan. I don’t mop my floor every week. I sweep everyday and vacuum my carpets at least every other day. I pick up my kids toys, but I don’t stress if I have random craziness strewn through my house. Random craziness makes life a bit more interesting, I say.
I’m not lazy; I just don’t see the point in sweating over things that mean nothing to who I am. In ten years or more, my kids won’t thank me for having a clean house. Nope. They will thank me for all the times I had them clean and fetch me things. My daughter currently has the record for the fastest beer relay. Okay, not really. I know when they are older, they will appreciate the times I read to them or played one of our silly games rather than worried about how clean the house was. At least I hope so cause that’s the plan I’m rolling with.
It’d be much easier on me if I were this way with other things in my life. When it comes to work, my writing, or anything involving a brain, I am competitive and want to succeed. I push myself harder than I should to be perfect—to not make mistakes. I understand that mistakes help us learn to do and be better, but I’d rather just avoid that all together and hit the bull’s eye first shot. Stupid. I know. You ain’t telling me nothing I didn’t already know. So why do I still do it? I dunno.
When it comes to writing, I don’t usually plan or outline. I guess I liken that to mopping the floor or something. It doesn’t seem as important to me because I like the journey with the voices in my head, without knowing where they’re going. I read and reread my chapter constantly as I write it, perfecting sentences and adding more or taking away as I go. I have one critique group member who reads as I write, so I want to make sure it doesn’t come off like a rough draft—I want it perfect.
Anyone who writes and has been at this game for a while knows how foolish that is. The best writing is in the rewriting phase, you say. I totally agree with that, but the closer I am to being perfect makes the rewriting much easier, right? Right?
Anne Lamott in Bird By Bird says:
“Perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness and life force. Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground—you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation, while writing needs to breathe and move.”
I did NaNoWriMo for the first time this past November. I was skeptical at first, even a little whiny if you ask my writing pals. But I kept going, cringing as I finished each word because I knew it was so unpolished. I had clutter, but I couldn’t delete it. Each and every word added to my goal. I wasn’t gettin’ rid of any of them. I clung onto those words like my son and his last fruit snack.
When I hit my 50k goal, I nearly peed my pants on my unmopped floor. I did it. I wrote without editing endlessly before moving on. That is a huge accomplishment. I deserve a prize—brownies maybe.
I’m trying my best to ease up on my own expectations of myself—to stop being hyper critical of my writing. In fact, when I first started doing this blogging stuff, I read and reread to make sure I didn’t sound like an idiot. And I started hating blogging. So I told myself, in an Irish accent cause everything sounds better that way, to stop being a diddly-eyed idget and just have fun. That’s why we’re doing this in the first place right, to have fun? To draw on our creative powers, to experiment with the craziness in our heads? Now it’s just time to get ‘er done and write.
Are you a perfectionist? Do you allow errors and clutter into your writing? Or are you a smarty pants and know that perfectionism will muck up your creativity? 


Donna Weaver said...

To answer your first question, yes and no. Like you there are some things I give special attention to--my day job in municipal government has duties that could get me sued otherwise--but there are many other things I do that don't require perfection. I guess the balance comes in determining where it fits (and is worth the time).

mooderino said...

It's tempting to keep honing what I've got down but then i'd never get finished. And when I rewrite I often cuts bits so if i had spent all that time getting a line just right only to end up throwing it away... I think it's important to just get to the rnd and then go back to the neginning and go through it again and keep doing it that way, more chance of finishing it.
Moody Writing

Siv Maria said...

When I was younger I was a perfectionist. House always clean, dinner on the table every night, etc... it took me forever to finish anything creative be it writing or painting. Now, I just go with it. Kids have moved out and started there own lives. Now I feel like I can relax. Age has its advantages :) I love the saying, Don't sweat the small potatoes...

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Great post. I'm too impatient to go for perfection. Wish I could plan more and take more care over each chapter, but I'd rather get it down and then go back and have another read through. But I'm never completely satified and just have to stop at some point.

RosieC said...

Nope, no perfectionists here. Actually, I used to just follow the story without plotting, but realized after a while I created huge holes and more subplots than I could handle. *fail*

This year I also did NaNo for the first time. I plotted, and then turned off my internal editor. Fortunately, I couldn't prevent the subplots from coming out of the woodwork or else I never would have gotten to 50K. I haven't gone back to edit it yet, as my inner editor is petrified of the state of the thing (yes, "thing"), but I plan on getting back to it this summer.

Otherwise, while I'm writing, my internal editor is kind of like the backseat driver: it tells my creator where to turn and what verb to use, but the creator doesn't always listen if she thinks it'll slow down the pace. :)

East for Green Eyes

Pam Asberry said...

I could really relate to this post. I tell people I am a "recovering perfectionist" because even though I have learned to let go in some areas, I am still crazy hard on myself in others. I love the quote from Anne Lamott; I have learned so much from her. And you are right; NaNoWriMo is a great exercise in letting go of perfection. You don't have time to be obsessive when you have to write 50,000 words in 30 days! Thanks for putting this all into words. Count me among your new followers; please stop by my blog if you find minute. Have a great day!

Tombstone said...

I tried to post another comment, but it didn't work. So you get this instead.

Elisabeth Hirsch said...

I think the best thing about my blogging is that I'm not being too much of a perfectionist--a good exercise for me. It's such a bummer that I edited my first MS to death though. At least it can R. I. P. now LOL! It's time to move on to greener pastures ;)

M.J. Fifield said...

I'm the second one. The one whose perfectionism will muck everything up.

But I half ass a lot of other things...just never writing. Unless it's November and I'm trying desperately to hit 50,000 words. Then it's anything goes (and usually does).

I loved Bird by Bird. It felt like a NaNoWriMo How To book.

M.J. Fifield
My Pet Blog

Leanne said...

If your house is spotless, you have OCD! Me, I'm perfectly normal, my house is a tip! I don't care that much anymore. Life is tooooo short. Your blog made me laugh--twice--so whatever you are doing, you are doing it right.

PS. If the kids start tidying the house, you know you've been a bit lax. But, hey, at least you cleaned the floor, sort of! :)

Nice blog

Anonymous said...

Ok so I had to giggle because I'm little miss anal about my house and I just told Phil the other day I need to back off. If the floors don't get done every day I need to stop whipping myself until I turn into butter. So I am trying this approach also. I'm going to throw your words of advice to me LAST YEAR back in your face. You told me to just write and stop going over and over my stuff. Get my idea's down then go back. So that is what I've been doing only to read that you are playing things the way i was doing it. Why I ought to beat you with a wet noodle! lol love your face

Jessica A. Briones said...

Where my house is concerned I am like you, with three boys to pick up toys, shoes, coats whatever it would be a never ending task, so every other day works too. The coats and shoes however get picked up by their owners...

When it comes to writing, I write until I run out of steam literally. If I stop in the middle of it because I feel I have to fix things my creativity is lost and when I catch a second wind I go with it. To be a perfectionist take too much work... I like it simple.

As for blogging I am still trying to get the hang of it!

Julie Musil said...

You know, I actually heard the Irish accent! With the first draft, I am NOT a perfectionist. My favorite advice is "first get it written, then get it right." I swear by that. I move forward with the story, let it simmer for a couple of weeks, then begin the ugly revisions (which are never as ugly as I thought they'd be). I'm glad you let go of the perfection for Nano. I'm impressed with what you accomplished!

Anonymous said...

Good post. I had to think about my response for a bit, but I think when working on a long-form piece, I do a stream-of-consciousness, no-editing first draft, then make lots of revisions. For a shorter work -- a blog post, a news story -- I write it in my head first, and when I start typing I'm really just dictating.

I was just talking with someone the other day who had the same positive experience with NaNo, sounds great.

Amie Kaufman said...

I was a perfectionst for such a long time. It was definitely my first NaNo novel that taught me to just push through and get a draft on the page. IT changed everything.