I had an uneasy feeling when I started reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly, but I wasn’t prepared for the paradigm quake that came when Brown quoted Gretchen Rubin from her book The Happiness Project:
“I remind myself, ‘Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.’ (Cribbed from Votaire.)”
I read that and thought smugly, “That’s right on target. I just posted a blog about that.” Which left me wide open as I continued reading the rest of the quote from Rubin:
“A twenty-minute walk that I do is better than the four-mile run that I don’t do.”
Absolutely, I thought. I say that to my students all the time.
“The imperfect book that gets published is better than the perfect book that never leaves my computer…”
That slid right under my smug self-congratulation to grip my heart. I got it. I saw something about myself that rocked me to my core.
I thought I had perfection licked. I happily write shitty first drafts. I’m willing to publish blog posts that are lightly edited because I believe that blogs are supposed to be less polished than a lot of other writing.
Perfectionism doesn’t stop me from getting words on the screen. It doesn’t stop me from writing fiction. It just stops me from sending my fiction into the world.
I suddenly realized that the “not-my-problem of perfectionism” is the main reason I haven’t published a novel.
It’s not lack of time or difficulty finding an agent or the shifts in the publishing industry. It’s my unconscious investment in what Brown describes as:
“a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feeling of shame, judgement and blame.”
Let’s be clear, perfectionism is not about striving to be my best or challenging myself to improve my skills. I often do strive for excellence, but I can only do that when I’m in a state of self-acceptance, when I freely acknowledge my strengths and my flaws without shame.
I thought I was over my biggest fear that I’ll write something really horrible and not realize how bad it is, that people will ridicule me, will write scathing reviews or just shake their heads in pity. That my colleagues at the Loft will think less of me if I publish a “bad” novel. The shame I feel about the possibility of being a “bad” writer is visceral.
I now realize that I wanted an agent and an editor for my novel to give me approval, as if they could protect me from my biggest fear. As if ALL good books have agents and get published, and NO crap books ever get published. As if the authors I admire never got a bad review or criticism.
If I can accept my own flaws without spiraling into shame, it won’t matter what a critic says. If one wrote “Bane’s novel sprawls. She takes far too long to make her point,” I’d be able to think “Yup, that sounds about right. Yup, it’s not perfect, but it is a good read with compelling characters. And it’s out there where readers can find it.”
As painful as it is to see how I’m still using perfectionism, it’s liberating. I realize that I want to be in the arena more than I want to be safe. I’d rather fail while daring greatly than hide under the covers.
As terrifying as it is to contemplate, it’s time to take my novel off the shelf. I’ve scheduled a semi-retreat to blow the dust off my novel in January. Imperfection, here I come!
What’s lingering on your shelf? If you were to risk imperfection with me, what would writing would you send out into the world?