It’s the last day of my holiday in Adelboden and, while skiing, I have come to understand something about myself. I am a perfectionist. Some might think this is a good quality. How can a desire to get it right be wrong? Well it’s not so much wrong, it’s just not helpful.
Let me explain. You’ll need to be patient for a couple of paragraphs because it will seem like I’m talking about skiing but, really I’m talking about writing. All will become clear.
A couple of days ago, as you may have gathered from my last post, my skiing wasn’t coming together at all. I got very frustrated, even angry with myself and was generally giving myself a hard time. I wanted to ski perfectly, with elegance, rather than clattering down like a mad thing. But then I thought, actually, I’m not doing badly, considering six years ago I had a stroke and was paralysed down my left side for a few days. Muscle memory had gone and had to be relearned. Plus there was the whole knock to my confidence thing. So to be angry with myself for not skiing elegantly, perfectly, was a bit ridiculous.
So I made a decision. I would stop being hard on myself and just ski, get down the hill as best I could. And do you know what happened? It started to come together. I relaxed. I got on with it. I stopped focusing on the negatives and started thinking that I was doing pretty well to get down without falling over. Five years ago I fell every time I turned right because my left leg had forgotten what to do. So getting down without falling was pretty good going. And today I did a black run with something approaching competence. I was back!
And then, the lightbulb moment. I do this when I write, I am a perfectionist and it is counter-productive. I want to get back to the feeling when I’m in the flow and the writing is coming freely but I can’t sit at my computer and have it come back instantly. I need to just write, to allow myself the time to get back in the swing of it, to allow myself to mess around with scenes. It doesn’t have to be the perfect first scene, just any old scene. One that might not make it to the first draft of the book, but will allow me to exercise my creative muscles. Good writing will come back to me, if I just keep going and stop being so miserly with myself, so critical. It is not a generous trait to be a perfectionist. And it doesn’t bring perfection.
Wordism: What is likely get you closer to perfection is to keep on with the hard graft, allow yourself to make mistakes and be gentle with yourself.
If you are a perfectionist, save it until you’ve got your rewriting / editing hat on. Then it might be more useful. But when you’re trying to get started on a new book, ban the perfectionist.