Tag Archives: perfectionism

Diving Back In

Today, it’s the ninth of April.

Image: howmanyarethere.netEdvard Munch, The Scream

Image: howmanyarethere.net
Edvard Munch, The Scream

You may remember me saying, some time ago, that I planned to get back into my novel(s) at the start of April, and get at least one of them ready to start doing the rounds of submissions before the end of the month. Well, you’d think I’d have started the process by now, then, wouldn’t you?

I haven’t, though. Partly, this is due to being quite busy so far during April, but mainly it’s due to something else entirely. Something to which I am no stranger.

My old nemesis: Fear.

I opened my computer file for ‘Eldritch’ the other day, and began to get that old familiar thrumming in the chest once more, the dead giveaway that all is not well within. I read through the first few pages and realised that there were 150 more to go, and my vision started to blur. I had to close the file and step away from the computer for a while – so far, ‘a while’ has been ‘a week, nearly’. My gaze fell upon my hard copy of ‘Tider’, complete with all its handwritten, sweated-over notations, yesterday, and I couldn’t bring myself to open up my box-file and just deal with it. I know I have to do this work, and I know (or, at least, I’m *fairly* sure) the stories contained in both these files are worth saving – at least, to me. But all of this logic and reason and sensible-ness tends to go out the window when you’re faced with the unenviable reality of writing: it’s hard work, and it may (and indeed probably will) be hard work which will come to nothing.

I know how it feels to put my heart, soul and kitchen sink into a project and watch it vanish without trace. I know how bad that felt at the time, and how it made me slide into a trough of depression that lasted the best part of a year. I don’t want to go through that again. I have no way of knowing for sure, of course, that the same thing will happen with my creative work, but the old fear is there, lurking, waiting to pounce.

But then, I have to realise that this fear isn’t what it seems. It’s definitely there, skulking about like a wolf in the woods, but it’s not necessarily a fear of failure in the eyes of other people. It’s not even a fear of success, as I’ve talked about before here on Blog Central. I have a feeling it’s more of a fear that I’ll fail myself, that I’ll let myself down, that I won’t do a proper job of this work, that I’ll do it ‘wrong’, that it won’t ever be good enough… Paradoxically, of course, the way this fear manifests itself is to paralyse me from taking positive action, and to stop me from opening up my files and getting stuck in. My fear of not doing the work properly is keeping me from doing the work properly. Analyse that!

Yeah, I don't get it either.Image: blogs.babble.com

Yeah, I don’t get it either.
Image: blogs.babble.com

I may not have said this before, but I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist. Like most people with this tendency, if something isn’t 100% correct and exact the first time it’s done, then it’s very difficult to deal with it.  Part of my brain wants to just shut away all my work, lock up all my files and never look at them again, and close the door on all the words that aren’t good enough, that don’t meet the (self-imposed) ‘required standard’. I also tend to be very impatient with myself, and if I can’t pick up a skill or learn something the first time I try it I often feel like a failure. I don’t necessarily give up trying, but somehow the enjoyment is taken out of it for me. So, once again, I find myself wondering why I’m drawn to the life of a writer, which is the sort of life in which tendencies like these are definitely not helpful. In fact, they are the very things you really need to overcome if you’re going to be able to live peacefully in a life which requires you to write, rewrite, draft, redraft, correct yourself, edit and undo lots of your own work, and learn that you can’t write a book perfectly the first time around.

Writing is rewriting. This I know. I don’t tend to write the sort of first drafts I’ve read about on writing websites, or on other writing blogs, which are basically ‘spews’ of emotion and feeling and characterisation and story without any structure or narrative; my first drafts are careful, tentative, over-written and over-complicated. So, necessarily, they aren’t good enough to be exposed to the world. But it’s almost like I’m trying, even from the first draft, to do my absolute best – to make the work ‘perfect’. But, of course, it never is perfect the first time around. This tends to hurt my head a bit. It’s amazing how you can know something with your rational mind, but your more irrational, emotional, instinctive side can be completely unaware of it. No matter how much I know the books I’m writing can’t be perfect the first time they’re written, I still try to do it. And by doing so, I set myself up for ‘failure’, which locks me into the fear, which means diving back into the work of fixing my words is ten times harder than it needs to be.

God, I am a complicated little person.

Perhaps this is why I want to be a writer. What better way is there to face up to these irrational tendencies and deal with my crippling perfectionism than by forcing myself to work through it? I managed to do it before – ‘Tider’ is in its sixth or seventh draft, let’s not forget, and it’s still not right – but because I’ve left it so long, picking it up again now and starting the work again is like starting from scratch.

It’s going to be difficult. Send me your good vibes. I will need them.

This isn't just an excuse to use a picture of Westley. The point is, I'm attacking my problem. Just in case you were going to accuse me of being gratuitous.Image: cinemagogue.com

This isn’t just an excuse to use a picture of Westley. The point is, I’m attacking my problem. Just in case you were going to accuse me of being gratuitous.
Image: cinemagogue.com

Going With the Flow

It’s another cold day out there, but luckily not as bad as yesterday. It’s even beginning to brighten up just enough to look enticing, but it’s definitely a winter woollens sort of day, all the same.

Not that I can actually wear woollen gloves next to my skin, but you get the idea...Image: scotweb.co.uk

Not that I can actually wear woollen gloves next to my skin, but you get the idea…
Image: scotweb.co.uk

Today, a lot of things are on my mind. I’ve been trying to pin down a topic for my blog post for the last hour or so, not sure of the direction I should take today. My mind’s been racing from one image to the next like my head was an old-fashioned movie projector, but eventually I realised that maybe that was what I should write my post about. Being kind to yourself on days when your brain just refuses to sit still, or co-operate, or function the way you want it to.

Yesterday, I also found my brain acting like this, and I gave myself such a hard time about it that I drove myself into a bad mood. I kept berating myself for not being able to function at 100%, so much so that I ended up standing in my own way and impeding what I was able to accomplish. I’m learning that when you’re the only person you have to get you (and keep you) motivated throughout the day, it’s really important to be on good terms with your brain. I’m not sure why my basic reaction when I don’t have all my cylinders firing first thing in the morning is to be angry with myself, but it’s the truth. So, it’s something I need to work on and help myself out with.

We all have days when things don’t go our way. Some days everything is so easy and effortless that life is a pure joy, but on other days everything we turn our hand to is a struggle. I know this is true – and not just for me – but it’s so easy to forget it. I tend to get so frustrated with my own slow reactions and fuzzy thinking on those hard days that I end up convincing myself nothing is worth the effort, which means a slow slump into unproductivity. This in turn means more chastising myself, which means the work I do produce is wrung out of me with ten times as much effort as it should have taken. It’s a completely ridiculous situation when I sit down and work through it in words. It’s a bit like shackling myself to a boulder and then expecting myself to run a marathon, and kicking myself when I can’t do it.

Fitted sheets, no matter how many times my mama-in-law shows me how to fold them, are my nemesis. Plus, Sean Bean. All good. Image: imgur.com

Fitted sheets are my nemesis. But I’ve learned to live with the fact that I will never be able to fold one. If only I could extend this to everything else in my life!
Image: imgur.com

It would be so much better to work with your brain and not against it at times like this, wouldn’t it? To be gentle with your thought processes and try to listen to what your brain is telling you. It will lead to better productivity, as well as better mental health, because struggling to accomplish something you just can’t manage at a particular point will (at least in my case) lead to total mental strangulation. Which isn’t, as you might’ve guessed, a lot of fun.

Yesterday, I managed to write three pieces of flash fiction, as well as my blog post, and draft an idea for a fourth short piece. Because I’m trying to build up a body of work for submissions, this is important work for me. Perhaps that’s the reason why my brain tends to freeze when I try to do it, and why I react with such frustration when things start to go wobbly inside my head. But the point is, I still managed to hit my target, despite doing my best to hobble my own efforts. I know I can do the work, but it would have been accomplished with a lot less strain if I’d just taken it easy on myself.

Is this a problem for other people too? I hope I haven’t come across as a total crackpot in this post! I have a feeling, though, that this process is one which will sound familiar to a lot of people; something else I’ve learned in recent times is that you’re very rarely alone when it comes to struggling with certain things. My resolution for today is to go with the flow of my brain, and let it set the pace. I’m going to listen to it and let it give me ideas for my short pieces, instead of treating it like a galley slave and whipping it until it produces the goods. I’ll let you know how I get on!

Happy Tuesday – I hope all is flowing perfectly for you today, whatever you’re doing.