Perfectionism in writing is too often a double-edged sword. I’ve followed Glynis Jolly’s blog for a number of years now because I enjoy she digs into exploring her writing process. As an editor, I readily admit my own struggles with perfectionism when it comes to my own creative writing. Over the years, I’ve learned to concede I am never going to write many words a day, but if I do sit down to write every day, those words add up. That’s doesn’t make it any easier though. I’m sure many of you will be able to relate to this post in some fashion, and I’m glad to be hosting her first guest post.
Official Bio: Glynis Jolly was born in September of 1954 (you do the math). She’s married and has one son and one stepdaughter. Glynis has lived in Colorado, Crete (Greece), Michigan, and now in Tennessee for the second time with her husband and three cats. She’s always been inspired to write. The act of putting pen to paper or typing on a keyboard makes her feel alive somehow. She has several unfinished works of fiction, hoping that someday she’ll finish one of them and get it published. She started blogging in 2009 and has had five blogs since then. A Scripted Maze is her current blog of three years now.
The Paradox of Perfectionism in Writing
I have a few close online friends who, like me, have blogs. All but one chose to make their blogs of a personal nature. The one with the more professional one has recently embarked on a career as a fiction author, so she needs to maintain that polished facade at her site. If you asked any one of them about my current habitual dilemma with writing, each one would probably say I’m too demanding of myself.
I was taught as a kid to try my best at whatever I did. I was told that a job isn’t worth doing unless it is done correctly. Haphazard effort was not and is not acceptable. These are, obviously, good rules to follow your entire life, although, if I go by what my friends have said, I’ve taken these lesson beyond of scope of normal.
Sensibility would probably tell one when working with a project that is creative, whether it be visual, musical, or written, the rules of right and wrong become obscure, often to the point of indefinable. I know this. Within the world of these arts, opinions and trends, as well as personal desires, bending and, sometimes, breaking the rules reign supreme. And it’s great to have it that way. As a writer, it gives me the privilege of bowing and smashing grammar and spelling rules as I see fit for the creation I’m working on. Of course, this freedom must be dealt with discernment.
Yet, the principles I grew up with, no matter how passé they are for today’s writer, continue to put up colossal walls I find unimaginable to demolish. Those standards were chiseled into my brain. Homework didn’t leave to house for school until my mother checked it for correctness.
I start banging away on the keyboard seeing the word appear before me on the screen within one of my many writing software programs. I don’t have any other programs minimized or hovering behind the one I’m using. Still, before I’ve finished the second paragraph, I’m clicking on the dictionary shortcut that lives on my lower toolbar. I must know that I spelled a word right. I’m positive there’s a better word than the one I just typed out onto the page in front of me. My fingers dance on the letters as I try to concentrate on the flow of the piece. Somewhere in my mind, though, a tiny little voice is telling me I should be able to write it better. It taunts me with the notion that I have the skills to do it more effectively, more completely somehow. Whether this is actually true or not, is something I don’t know. I read the last sentence and rack my brain on how that sentence could be altered so it says more of what I want from it.
After about an hour or two of this strife, I feel spent, completely depleted. I grab a snack in the kitchen and crash on the sofa to watch whatever is mindless on the boob tube.
I’ve read blog posts giving suggestions and advice on how to get past the perfection trap. Maybe these posts of information work for most writers but the words I read strike me as meant for someone—anyone—but me. If it was all that simple, I’d be a best-selling author by now.
Joe Bunting wrote in a post in The Writing Practice blog not too long ago, “Your job is not to write perfect sentences.” At first, my inner response was “My job is to write an enticing story—without errors.” Well, wouldn’t this mean perfect sentences? I am the world’s most terrible speller and I write one word when I mean to write another word. No one, including myself, would be able to read a first draft written by me because of the enormous amount of mistakes in it. Joe may think he’s right but I doubt he’s considered anyone like me.
After I uttered those words about how I should write a story in my head, I left my desk and made myself some Chai Latte tea. (If you’re trying to cut down on the amount of coffee you drink, try this out. It’s wonderful stuff.)
Sitting at the computer again, I felt calmer. I read Joe’s statement again. Okay, my main job is not to write perfect sentences. Nevertheless, I will not give up my dictionary link in the taskbar. I will, however, stop glancing at my style book that sits ready to serve in the small bin on my desk.
I want to get past this obsession with perfectionism. I know I can never be perfect. All I have to do to prove it is look in a mirror. And that just tells me what isn’t perfect about my looks. My personality is quirky. My abilities are shaky at best. By trying to write perfect sentences, who is it I’m trying to fool?
How do you get past perfectionism in writing?
You can connect with Glynis Jolly and her social media website via her Scripted Maze blog.
Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2017.