Perfectionism and the Pursuit of Unhappiness

While we may each be the only protagonist in the story we perceive that is our lives, I would venture to say that we are also the only true antagonist.  Just as we strive for excellence in a work in progress, (which could apply to so many things really … our writing, relationships, employment, a new hair-do), we also devise ways to sabotage our progression.

We get lazy.

Bored.

Frustrated.

Depressed.

And there are so many other things we could be doing that are so much easier!

But one of those obstacles we occasionally place in front of our feet we camouflage into thinking its the next rung in the ladder, a necessity in order to become who we were meant to be.  No, I’m not speaking of midnight runs to Taco Bell (which can also be both positive and negative in one when you think about it); I’m speaking of perfectionism.

Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order.

— Anne Wilson Schaef

To give you an example, I finished my debut novel, a horror / thriller entitled “Housebroken,” this past February, with plans to self-publish it. Amazingly enough, though it’s been over five months, the only place you can find a copy of the book is on my laptop (and zip drives, and Google drives, and possibly in the hands of a few beta-readers).

Why have I sat on it this long?

I’m a perfectionist.

My novel has gone through umpteen drafts to the point that I have as many cut pages as I do actual pages in the novel (seriously, over 300 cut pages).  I just printed the whole thing out for probably the fourth time in order to do “one last pass” on the manuscript, immediately noticing little tweaks I can make in the first thirty pages I covered today.

After updating my novel on my computer from those revisions I realized for the first time that my novel has become a roadblock.  Not because it isn’t good — which I feel it is; not because it isn’t great — which I hope it is, but because I’m not willing to let it live outside of my grasp.

I’m like that psychotic mother who keeps their kids from leaving the house because I don’t want anything bad to happen to them (so glad my mom doesn’t read these posts — kidding!).

The problem with writing is that no matter how long you work on a project it will never be perfect.  There will always be something more you could have added, phrases and metaphors you could have changed, dialogue you could’ve sharpened.

But that’s okay.

Recently I went back to ready the debut novel of a novelist whom I have come to love, who has consistently put out a book a year for the past twelve plus years, and guess what?  I couldn’t finish it.  It was that bad.

This is by no means an excuse for shoddy work but a way to know that you will only get better and that publishing something that might not be what you are capable of twelve years from now is still part of arriving at that novel twelve years away.

So for today I’ve decided to put my black cape and mask away and start being the protagonist again in my life.  Though I still may finish this one last pass…

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