blogging, General

On Perfectionism

I’ve been very lackadaisical about writing posts lately. My last one was actually back in June so it’s been about a year since I decided to take a break from blogging.

The extended break wasn’t entirely intentional. I moved across country which was one of the reasons I ultimately decided on taking a break from blogging. There were however, others, some which came after and some which came before. There were family and personal matters I needed to take care of. I lost a close friend—someone who I had genuinely never thought I could possibly lose.

Life happened, the way it always does.

It’s been about a year since I took a break from blogging. Last October, eleven months ago, I supposedly came back to blogging. Since then I’ve made a total of thirteen posts, four of which are writing prompts totaling up to about an hour’s worth of work at max. It’s not that I haven’t had the time to sit down and write a post. It’s not even that I don’t have ideas. There’s an entire laundry list of posts I want to update and rewrite and I’ve been collecting ideas for ongoing posts that should mean I have material to work with for several months.  

Instead it’s been an age old obstacle I almost feel guilty for tripping over again:

Perfectionism.

I will be the first person to admit that I am a Type A. I don’t like when things don’t go according to plan and I hate when I don’t have a plan in place. Add an anxiety disorder and the constant and irrational fear of other people judging my every action and you end up with a perfectionist. Not a healthy one either.

Case in point, getting back into blogging did not go as intended. The reasons weren’t entirely in my control. That unfortunately does not stop guilt and frustration from setting in because things did not go the way they were supposed to. That doesn’t stop the invasive thought that things would be going the way they were supposed to if I had done x, y or z correctly. That doesn’t stop the feeling that I need to make another plan and that this time it needs to go perfectly because if it doesn’t then everyone will know I’m a failure.

Logically, I’m aware that this isn’t true. As any self-aware perfectionist can tell you: there’s no end to the cycle. Something can always be improved and because it can always be improved it can never be perfect. The allure of perfectionism never really goes away. The idea that you can do something—anything—so well that no one can find a fault in it is an addictive idea.

Like any other addiction, it becomes unhealthy after a point.

Which is where I was sitting at just a couple of days ago. Making another plan, mapping out exactly when and how and what I needed to do to get back into blogging. Digging through old bookmarks for resources to reference so that this time everything went the way it was supposed to.

And in the eternally growing list of bits I have, I came across a question:

What’s the most important thing you need to work on as a writer?

The question came from a DIY MFA Starter Kit I had printed out and tucked into a folder. For whatever reason, seeing it made me pause and ask myself. What was the one thing I needed to work on as a writer?

The short answer is streamlining my editing process. I can write a story with a ridiculous amount of speed barring disaster or obstacle, but as soon as I hit the editing phase, I slow to a crawl. Another aspect of being a Type A—at least for me—is how impatient I get. I don’t want to spend six months working on rewriting one scene just to redo it again later. But that’s what I end up doing so often. That leads into a cycle of feeling as if even with all of the edits, the story just won’t be good enough no matter what I do.

It won’t be perfect.

That’s the tricky part about perfectionism, and especially when dealing with any creative project. Perfectionism isn’t possible because all forms of art are subjective. There are very few pieces of art that have attained ‘perfect’ status. That includes everything from paintings to stories to music. No matter what, there is always someone that thinks one or two things could be changed to improve it.

Which is brings me to the long answer. The one thing I need to work on as a writer is in not chasing perfection. It’s learning to stop focusing on the supposedly imperfect details and letting it be. There will always be something I can change, something I can improve. There will always something that could be done better.

The reason for that is because I’m constantly learning new things. That might be something as small as a new word, or it might be an entirely new subject. Big or small, learning those new things shape my opinions on this that or the other thing. In turn, those changing opinions feed into my writing style: which rules I consistently break and which ones I adhere too. Which little quirks I leave behind in my voice through word choice and even bending grammar conventions.

It ends up meaning that what might be ‘perfect’ for today won’t be next week. Even if I somehow write an entire story in perfect form, there’s always more of a story to be told, always another character that has something to say.

That’s not to say there aren’t things that will absolutely need to be changed. Rules of grammar are there for a reason and sometimes scenes just don’t hold the weight of the story’s structure. Editing is still a vital step in the process.

But in not chasing perfection, in accepting that sometimes I need to just do something even if I don’t have a plan and I don’t really know what’s going to happen, it means editing no longer becomes an endless loop. It means letting myself deviate from the plan. It means not feeling guilty because I’m human and make mistakes or forget to do things.

Unlearning perfection isn’t something that can be measured—how to you measure the unattainable in the first place? It doesn’t come with a set time or a specific guide on how to know when you’re using it as a bad coping mechanism. Instead it comes with a dozen little clues. I know why I get stuck in editing loops. I know why I get so bent out of shape because I missed a self-imposed deadline.

While I can’t measure perfectionism itself, I can teach myself to cope with it better. I can set reminders to give myself guidelines instead of hard-and-fast plans. I can learn to get up and try again when I don’t meet the overly high standards I set for myself. I can teach myself that improvement is a process.

With that in mind, here’s to letting go of ‘perfect’. Here’s to getting back into things even if I don’t have a plan, or when the plan goes awry. And in case anyone else needs this reminder:

I don’t have to be perfect, I just have to try.  

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