Showing posts with label perfectionism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label perfectionism. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 27

Writer's Block and Perfectionism

Ever stared at a black piece of paper while any semblance of an idea bled away? I think we all have. 

Writer's block is insidious, a very real villain that can sneak through your mental shields in all too many ways. It has many causes, but chief among them is the evil of perfectionism.


It's not necessarily that we lack ideas; sometimes, occasionally, this is the case but often it's not. Often we're simply hypercritical of ourselves: with emphasis on "OUR". 

We look at someone else's work, someone who has been published by a publisher we respect and admire, by a publisher we would love to be published by, and we are less critical. 

When I was in school our class was given two poems to read, one composed (this is what we were told) by a famous poet and the other composed by an undergrad. Invariably more people said they liked the published poet's work. Then we were told our teacher had switched the attributions. The poem we had been told had been written by a famous poet had actually been written by an undergrad, and vice versa.

The moral: don't be hard on yourself. Your perceptions of your own work are biased. Even if you're a successful writer, each new manuscript feels like a fresh step into the abyss and there are never any guarantees. 

Don't edit yourself.

Don't edit yourself. Not on your first draft. Not when you're still at the stage of finding--to use Stephen King's metaphor--the bones of your story. 

Yes, absolutely, put your prose--and your story, your plot--under the magnifying glass of editorial critique, your own and others, before you let your literary creations out into the world, before you set them free to run where the many critics of this world can, and will, find them.

Time and time again professional writers have said they doubted themselves for much of their first draft, doubted that anyone else would want to read their scribbles.

But they continued.

Perseverance. That's the key.

Perseverance and a certain mulish obstinacy. Stubbornness.

I said that to one of my non-writing friends the other day, I said that writers had to be stubborn, and his eyes bugged out. "Don't say that!" he said. "It's not a good thing to be stubborn." Well, it is for someone who is churning out, scribbling out, ripping out, their first draft. 

Writing, that act of creation, is painful and messy and often produces something ugly, though (one hopes) not irredeemably so. That's what second and third (etc, etc) drafts are for.

No Ideas

What's that you say? What if you, really, honestly, have no idea what to write about?

I find that if I ever feel at a loose end about what to write, if I sit down to write and I hear the empty hiss of static and my mind turns as white and bland and devoid of creative energy/impetus as a white dry erase board, then I like to play with idea generators (see: Seventh Sanctum's Idea Generators).

Always--well, so far at least--what I've written as a result of this sort of writerly exercise bears not the slightest relation to the prompt I began with but it has, inevitably, coaxed my own ideas to come out and play.

In that vein, here is an article +Elizabeth S. Craig shared: Simple Solutions to Ten Common Writing Roadblocks. In it Leslie Lee Sanders lists a multitude of ways to help generate ideas and kickstart your creativity.

Happy reading and writing!


Photo credit: "Baby Bear" by Laura D'Alessandro under Creative Commons Attribution.

Tuesday, December 18

The Cure For Perfectionism

The Cure For Perfectionism

A fellow blogger and writer, John Ward, published a post today about the problem of perfectionism. (See: The Trap of Perfection)

That got me thinking.

I know I've written in the past about my encounters, actually they were more like knock-down-drag-out fights, with writer's block and how the feeling that one's prose has to be perfect lies at the heart of it. (See: Perfection Is The Death Of Creativity)

Of course we all want our writing to be brilliant, but there's a special sort of inferiority, a certain acute sense of ennui, of hopelessness, that blossoms within me whenever I read a truly stunning piece of prose--two of my favorite writers are Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood--and I'm pretty darn sure my own scribbles aren't going to ever ascend to that level.

The Cure For Perfectionism

The cure, for me, is to realize I'm not alone.

It's not just your prose that is likely never going to ascend to the dizzying heights of the greats. The overwhelming majority of writers--and here I'm talking about professional writers, folks who have spent their careers publishing book after book and who sell well--aren't going to be wordsmiths of that caliber. (This is, of course, IMHO.)

So, you're in good company. Professional writers don't let the fact that they probably will never be nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature stop them from writing the best darn story they can. Remember, stories are about plot too, and creating narrative drive and all the rest of it.

While Dan Brown will likely never be nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature, he told a darn fine story, one that many folks enjoyed reading and that sold well. For me, Dan Brown is an inspiration.

The next time you're feeling as though your writing will never be 'good enough', go down to your local bookstore and browse through the bestseller section. These are books that have sold hundreds of thousands of copies and I guarantee you that you're going to find at least one book where you have the reaction: I can write better than this.

Hold onto that!

In those times when you feel like giving up, look at books like these. Sometimes that's just the sort of perspective you need to leave your self-doubts, your self-consciousness, behind and write.

At least, one can hope! :-)

If you have a tip or trick for smothering the siren call of perfectionism please leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you.

Other articles you might like:

- The Value of Google+ As A Writer's Platform
- Getting Ready for 2013: A Writer's Guide
- The Structure Of Short Stories

Photo credit: "winter friends" by AlicePopkorn under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, June 28

Kris Rusch: The Value of Imperfection

Kris writes:
At every craft workshop I teach, I make at least one writer cry. ...

How do I bring writers to tears? Usually by saying this:

I loved this story. It’s wonderful. Mail it.
I found this very touching. As Kris says, professional writers "are workshop-hardened folk, people who have been eviscerated by the best of them ...".

It is so true, and one reason why I am leery of workshops. I think every writer--priofessional or otherwise--has had the experience of being told that, in some way or other, their writing didn't measure up.

Since we pour who we are, our souls, into our prose, when our work is dismissed it can be a soul-crushing experience.

Kris' point is that no story is perfect. She quotes Tina Fey: "The show doesn’t go on when it’s finished; it goes on because it’s 11:30". So very true. Kris writes:
Exactly. At some point, you must simply let go of that book or story or play and move to the next.

If our workshopping friend Bill Shakespeare strove for perfection, we would never have heard of him. We wouldn’t have gotten all of that marvelous writing, all of those wonderful—flawed—plays. (You don’t think A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the only one riddled with possible workshop-identifiable errors, do you? Think of Romeo and Juliet. Why didn’t those crazy lovesick kids just move to another town????)
So many times in Kris' post I felt like jumping up, pumping my first in the air and yelling, "Yes!". I couldn't, though, because, first, it would have destroyed my reputation as being quietly introspective and, second, it would have disturbed the cat who had chosen to sleep on me.

There's one more thing I want to share with you:
When I became an editor, I learned just how important taste is. The difference between the short stories in Analog and Asimov’s, two of the science fiction digest magazines (that now have e-book editions each month if you haven’t seen them before), isn’t that there is such thing as an Analog story or an Asimov’s story that I as a long-time reader can tell you about. The difference is in the taste of their editors. Stanley A. Schmidt of Analog likes different kinds of stories than Sheila Williams of Asimov’s does. Occasionally their tastes overlap. Most often, they do not.

If there were such a thing as a perfect sf story, then both editors would always buy the same stories, and you couldn’t tell the magazines apart.

As readers, you all know this. As writers, you forget it.

And when you forget it, you make the weirdest decisions.

You give control of your product to the wrong people. You submit romance novels to science fiction markets (and wonder why the editor didn’t read your manuscript—was it the passive sentence on page 32?). You try to revise to please everyone in your peer-level writing group.

You self-publish your novel, make sure it’s edited and copyedited, add a fantastic cover, and then revise to address concerns posted by reviewers who gave your book one star. That’s complete and utter idiocy. Seriously.

Some nutty brand new writer, with one or two novels to her name, posted a blog on Digital Book World espousing just that. She says writers should always address their critics’ concerns.

I read that and nearly snorted my tea all over my iPad. If I even tried to address all the nasty reviews I’ve gotten over the years, I’d never write anything new. If I tried to address all the somewhat valid criticisms I’ve gotten on my books, I’d still spend forever revising.

Only a writer with one or two publications to her credit would have time to even think such a thing is viable.

Her blog post has gone viral, and I’ve seen new writers everywhere wring their hands over the fact that they now have to pay attention to their one-star reviews and constantly revise.

I’m here to tell you this: If you want a career as a writer, ignore your critics.

When the book is finished, when the book is published for heaven’s sake, then it’s done. Irrevocably done. Mistakes and all.

And there will be mistakes. Lots of them.
This makes so much sense! I really needed to hear this. Again.

I would encourage your to read Kris' post in full, as my mother used to say, "It's a keeper". This one is being indexed in Evernote under the heading, "When you feel like a crappy writer, READ THIS!!!". Here's the link: The Business Rusch: Perfection.

Remember, keep writing!

Related reading:
Henry Miller's 11 Writing Commandments
- Write Or Die: The App
- Tips For Writers From Richard Nash, Previously Of Soft Skull Press