Monday, February 13, 2012

Perfection and the Writer: A Modern Day Tale

I’m a perfectionist. I know it, I accept it. And apparently I’ll blog about it.

The problem with being a perfectionist is wanting to be perfect all the time. Can a person be perfect all the time? Hardly. We wouldn’t have the phrase Epic Fail unless we were imperfect. Hence the problem.

The perfection tendency comes from my upbringing. I spent a lot of time in artistic pursuits striving for the best. I remember a time period when I was obsessed with drawing horses. I drew what I still hold to be one of the greatest sketches I’ve ever drawn of a horse. Did I achieve “the best”? Yes, I’m pretty sure I did. At what cost though? My time.

I spent hours poring over photographs of horses in books I borrowed from the library. Once I selected a photograph to sketch (I don’t do well sketching without some sort of visual reference in front of me), I would spend hours upon hours sketching. And erasing. And sketching some more. Scrunched nose, crossed eyes. What do I get for it? One measly sketch that sits in a sketchbook that resides (somewhere) in my room. Does that mean I’m not proud of the sketches? No, I’m very proud of them. When you accomplish something difficult, you feel really good about it. I always got that little flutter of happiness when I finished a sketch and it looked like what I wanted it to. I have to admit, though, that I lived for those moments. That feeling was like a drug almost.

That desire hasn’t gone away. It’s not a bad desire to have. What desiring that feeling has lead to, however, is the problem with perfection.

Prior to participating in NaNoWriMo, I spent far too much of my time correcting my mistyped letters and punctuation. It drove me nuts to look at a misspelled word. Whenever I would hit a standstill, I would go back and reread sections and fix them so they sound good. After NaNo, I realized that I can let these things go for the moment and edit later. But, it’s hard. The perfectionist in me keeps wanting to go back and fix the mistakes. And nine times out of ten, I go back.

I also contend with not knowing all that I need to know to continue. In my WIP, the MC is struggling with whether she wants to be a nurse like her mother wants or not. Back in the day when I was fresh out of high school, I was thinking about becoming a nurse. I ended up changing my mind before I got far. So, there are a lot of things I don’t know about schooling necessary to become a nurse. I didn’t do any research before NaNo, so many of the details in my story are based on my limited knowledge on the subject. As I’m working on the revision, I get to the parts where discussing nursing is necessary and get frustrated. Why? Because I don’t know enough about being a nurse to explain these things. The perfectionist in me keeps wanting to do more research to get the details right. And it never feels like enough.

Sometimes as a writer, you’re going to struggle with perfection. It is what you want your finished product to be, or at least, you want it as close to perfection as you can get it. While initially writing, you have to realize that you can’t achieve perfection immediately. After edits upon edits, you will have a more and more polished draft. Sometimes your facts won’t be straight. Sometimes it doesn’t matter. I mean, look at television and movies--do they always get the details right? No, they don’t.

It’s something I’m probably going to stress over for the rest of my writing career. Maybe once I get through this first book, I may rest easier. Focus on the writing, then worry about the edits. Do all the research I need to, then make sure to get a beta reader that’s a nurse. There’s so much more to say when it comes to perfection (you have no idea how long it took me to write and finish this article), but we’ll leave it for next time. In the meantime, if you’re a perfectionist like me, take some solace in knowing you’re not alone.



  1. I think my desire for perfection and my inner critic is what made me set aside my writing for far too long now. I really need to just finish a dumb draft and THEN edit. It's hard to shut the perfectionist up, though.

    1. Me too. I have notebooks that I collected numerous ideas in for at least 5+ years and just last year finally decided to follow through. I never believed I could do it, since I'm such a perfectionist. I think you should try to write again, you'll probably be glad that you did. :)

  2. You know what? I am the most careless person in the world about everything but my writing. When it comes to that, there can't be a single thing out of place or I go nuts. NaNoWriMo really opened my eyes to the freedom that is freewriting. I think it's a fantastic idea to have someone beta read your work who knows that topic you're writing about. And at the end of the day perfection, like beauty, is in the eye of beholder. Look at all those books out there which have been deemed perfect for publication only to be criticized by readers. I say, work hard, do your best and don't let that perfection monster get to you.

    1. That's one thing I've been thinking about--so many books that are really great books receive a lot of criticism. No matter how "perfect" you get your novel, it will never be perfect to somebody. Just like you said: "Do your best." We all need to recognize what is our best and not keep thinking it's not (like by comparing ourselves). Our way of writing is our own, and we should learn to love it as is because it is great writing.


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