Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Curse of Perfectionism

I was an anxious child, a worrier who held all my fears tight within my belly, even in Grade 1. I woke up to butterflies in my stomach on test days, butterflies that didn’t disappear until the test was over and I knew that I had done well. I loved coming home from school with a much desired little blue stamp of a happy elf’s face when I had all the answers right. But the dreaded little red x’s made my belly knot up all over again—my work wasn’t perfect. So I took out my little pink eraser and corrected all my mistakes before I showed the test to my mother.

Fast forward to the 90’s when I joined my first writer’s group in Owen Sound. I was scared! As much as I wanted to learn from the rest of the group, I was nervous about sharing my work. What would they think? Was I any good? Did I have talent? Was I really a writer?

Sharing was hard at first, until I read what the rest of the group had written. Some of it was great but a lot of it was average or worse. Yet nobody was holding back, everybody was willing to put their work on display, to open up to the group. And even when my work didn’t appeal to everyone, I got great advice and grew a lot as a writer. I learned it was okay to write crap, as long as you knew how to make it better.

I still struggle with the curse of perfectionism. And it is a curse because it slows me down, makes me procrastinate and makes me doubt the quality of my work. I’ve learned that good writing is all about the editing—it’s okay to just spew out garbage onto the page and fix it up later. Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird, calls these “shitty first drafts” and encourages writers to forget about perfection and just get the first draft done.

So that’s what I’m doing. Just typing. Just telling a story. No pressure to create a masterpiece. Keeping it real and raw, writing my shitty first draft. All is good.

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