As a perfectionist, I tend to want to control everything -- myself, the people around me, outcomes. I used to think that if nothing went wrong, everything was going well. Simple, right? Just constantly run on a metaphorical treadmill, putting out fires before they start. Everything is peachy. WRONG. Oh I was so wrong.
Where did I end up as a writer with this type of thinking? In a previous blog post "What Do you Want Most? Overcoming Fear and Listening to the Voice Inside" I talk about how I ended up just NOT writing. If I didn't write, I couldn't fail. But I also wasn't happy with myself either. I knew deep down I wanted to write and I was holding myself back.
By sharing our writing (or any other art for that matter), we are in a vulnerable position. Our novels not only reveal our ability to craft sentences, paragraphs, cohesive stories, but also things about ourselves. Fiction writing comes from the imagination and sharing creative ideas with others provides a lens into our private thoughts.
Furthermore, criticism is a core part of the literary world. From the average reader providing a review to literary criticism, we are opening ourselves up as targets. And guess what? Art is subjective. I cannot control whether or not you like my writing. A perfectionist's nightmare.
As a perfectionist, I am still working on how to overcome my fear in this imperfect profession, however I've come up with a few tips that have helped me so far:
1) Distinguish what you can and cannot control: As a writer, I have a lot of power -- I can control my words. I can control what I choose to put on the page. What I write is my decision. What I cannot control is what other people think about my writing, good or bad. No matter how hard I try, I cannot manipulate how much you like my blog post or this blog. And that's OK.
2) Be OK with discomfort: A lot of my perfectionist tendencies come from a place of wanting to avoid discomfort. I do not want to feel the discomfort in failure, in mistakes, in criticism. However, in an effort to avoid discomfort, I found myself constantly uncomfortable! I was trying so hard to keep things in line and avoid mistakes that I was stressed out. Plus, I was unhappy because I kept myself from doing what I truly wanted to do -- write.
3) Set boundaries with who you choose as your "beta" critics: Now that I've told people that I completed the first draft of my dystopian novel, everyone is asking me for a draft of my work. I’m taking sharing one step at a time, having shared my novel so far with only my husband. He was my "beta reader," which in the literary word simply means he's a reader of my unpublished work. He provided extremely helpful commentary that I am currently implementing. My next reader will be my grandma. Then after I've implemented her edits, I will likely seek a professional editor and/or proofreader to be my final eyes before I reach out to agents.
4) Imagine a future where you succeed: The future does not exist yet. Imagine if publishing your book worked out. Imagine if following whatever dream you have worked out! Don't limit yourself to imagining the obvious future, continuing on the obvious path. Continuing in the same patterns, on the same treadmill.
5) Make your own definition of success: In the US, we view success as money, cars, clothes, jewels, big houses. And sometimes it's fun to have nice things, it's OK to want to show off and feel good about your monetary achievements. But eventually you will realize that nobody really cares about your things. It goes back to not being able to control what everyone thinks. Being rich will not stop the haters from hatin'. Being rich will not suddenly allow you to escape your own self-criticisms. Being rich will not provide you with physical or mental health. Real success is following what you truly want. Achieving your success doesn't even mean you have to be the best author (if that's what you want), but it means that you tried and maybe made connections with like-minded people along the way, had fun discussing new plot points with your significant other, maybe joined a book club. It means that you sought after something that seemed right for you and learned along the way.
Perfectionists like me need to learn that our biggest failures are things we do not try. I understand that the writing world is full of failure and rejection. I also understand that most writers don’t even get their first book published. But I want to be brave and try. If I try, I cannot fail, because the journey will be worth it.
Hello from imperfect me writing this imperfect blog post! Cheers!
Labels: author, boundaries, bravery, dystopia, failure, fear, imperfect, mental health, novel, perfectionism, sharing, success, vulnerability, write, writer, writing