Perfectionism

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CC image by maura

CC image by maura

I’m not a perfectionist. I’m probably the furthest thing from one. Time is too precious for me. I achieve “good enough,” and I’m ready to move on to the next task. But I think all people have a little perfectionism in them when it comes to the things we love.

When Tracy and I first started writing together, it was for the joy of the experience. It was what we did together for fun, and it was easy. We wrote thousands of pages together and what amounts to four or five books’ worth of material. Then the game changed. We decided to take our pages upon pages of stories and turn them into a viable book.

Not only did our goal change, but so did our method. Everything became harder, requiring more work and collaboration. But our self-awareness changed as well, and as that happened, the perfectionism began to sink in. Looking back on the words that we had once written, we became disillusioned with our own writing. What had seemed wonderful and brilliant a year ago suddenly had too many flaws to reconcile.

In one sense, it was a good thing. Only when you see your flaws can you begin to improve upon them. Seeing where we went wrong and what we felt was just plain bad meant that we had improved as writers. At the same time, it was intimidating, and by the time we finished the first draft of our first book, my debilitating question had firmly cemented itself in my mind:

CC image by Emily

CC image by Emily

Will I ever be satisfied with my own writing?

If I am always improving, as I ever hope to be, will I ever be able to look back at my writing without wanting to change it? Without feeling like I could make it better? That it’s not good enough?

I was (and probably still am) among the class of writers that struggle to finish a draft because we make the mistake of going back and reading the previous chapters and feeling stuck. We see the flaws and the errors or we have new ideas, so we go back and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite until the task of completing a full fledged book feels so insurmountable that we are demoralized and ultimately give up.

Tracy and I made a pact when we started writing our book that we couldn’t change anything we had written. The goal was simply to write until the story was complete. If we had new ideas or saw anything we wanted to change, we would write it down in a document we had that listed all of our notes for later revisions. Halfway through our book, we made a decision about changing a major plot point. Even for this we didn’t go back and change a thing. We told ourselves, that from this point on, the reader actually doesn’t know this detail, and we moved on, noting to make the change during our revision. If you struggle like I do with consistent self-editing, I strongly suggest you try this method. Sometimes all you need is to make a conscious decision, and, for us, it worked.

CC image by Alan Levine

CC image by Alan Levine

Then came the revisions. We started with reading through the entire book and inserting comments about what we would like to change. When it comes to revising, you need a little bit of perfectionism. You need that picky eye and that drive to make your book the best it can be. What is debilitating during a draft becomes necessary for the revision. That perfectionism forced us to be organized and to stop saying, “I’ll fix that later.” We had to really dig into those sections that we were unsatisfied with and root out the problem. Even still there were parts that we put off. We had to recognize that we still didn’t know so we let it ruminate, we discussed it, we waited patiently for the spark that we needed.

I hate to admit that I enjoyed getting to be a perfectionist more than I thought I would. It was unbelievably satisfying to take those pieces that I didn’t know what to do with and work them until they became what they were meant to be for the story. Even still, that question would nudge in the back of my mind:

Will I ever be satisfied with my own writing?

Even though I’m pleased with this now, what if I look back on it a month from now, three months from now, six months from now, and find flaws? What if other people see flaws that I don’t see? What if it’s never good enough?

There is no such thing as perfect. That is a reality that we all must accept. So while it is okay to put on the costume of perfectionism for a little while, you need to know when to take it off. At the end of our revisions, we came to a point where we recognized that we could read it over and make tweaks until the end of time. Our book was ready for someone else’s eyes to read it. And so we began our beta reader phase, which we are still in the thick of. What a terrifying, eye-opening, and rewarding experience, let me tell you. And perhaps when we are finished with this phase, I will write another blog about what I have learned from this experience. But for now, what I can tell you from the feedback we have received is why there is no such thing as perfect.

CC image by Ludo Rouchy

CC image by Ludo Rouchy

Every person is unique with unpredictable and complex combinations and patterns of likes and dislikes. You cannot appease every reader to the fullest extent. I have been utterly fascinated by the feedback we have received. People are like magnets—some will be drawn and some repelled by the same thing. And this feels like a success to me. The imperfections are what make it perfect in my eyes. I love to see the differences of opinion and the discussion that it has already created. It makes me feel like Tracy and I created something real and dynamic and messy and imperfect like the story was always meant to be.

While I am excited to put on those perfectionist lenses again when the time is right and put the feedback of our beta readers to good use, I am having to get used to the opposite yet again. We are starting book two now. Beginnings are always the hardest for me. We have a backbone to build off of, we have ideas enough to fill the pages, and yet I am staring at the screen with that same question in my mind:

Will I ever be satisfied with my own writing?

Am I using the knowledge that perfection is impossible as an excuse to write poorly? Am I giving up on always improving myself? Will this ever be good enough?

CC image by OuadiOn

CC image by OuadiOn

And once again, Tracy and I had to make a pact. We will get the story out. We won’t worry about editing, we won’t go back and change anything. We will give each other the freedom to write crap. We’re not going to send each other our work with warnings of, “This is a really, really, really rough rough draft!” We just have to get the story out. We can be perfectionists later. And then we will put it away again. And we will continue to rediscover the beauty of imperfection.

By: Rachelle Clifford