Ironically, as a trait, it is a glaring IMperfection. Not just imperfection. It is paralyzing.
I have long been a perfectionist. While it affects both my analytical side and my creative side, I have found perfection to be absolutely devastating to my creative side.
* Re-writing the same scene, chapter, or book over and over, culminating in a refusal to submit it for publication even when you've had others tell you to go for it.
* Getting bogged down with a plot then finally throwing your hands up in frustration and walking away for months or years because you can't come up with the perfect plot nuances to bring your wide-sweeping story together.
* Attempting to draw or paint a picture and becoming so frustrated with the perceived inadequacy of the project that you hide your sketchbook or canvas and toss your supplies, never to pick up pencil or paint for years.
Aside from the loss of productivity, even worse is the thought of reaching the end of life and not having accomplished my artistic goals.
So recently I asked for some advice from other creatives on how they'd bust the perfection cycle. I got some really good ideas, and I got some not-so-helpful philosophical ideas (I wanted hands on recommendations). In the end, I went with my gut and decided the visual arts, not writing, would be my "therapy" for busting perfection paralysis.
Why did I choose the visual arts? Because, while I enjoy both writing and visual arts, it is my intention to make some income, no matter the amount, off my writing at some point in the future. Therefore writing adds even MORE pressure than the visual arts. I want to pursue drawing and painting as a hobby because I enjoy doing them. While I may be extremely hard on myself when doing visual arts, I feel the pressure level is slightly less than when writing.
The next obvious question is HOW will I implement this process of busting perfectionism paralysis? Simple. Each week, I spend a little time either painting or drawing (or both if the fortune of time is upon me). No holds barred. No criticism.
I have ample sketchpads that have been laying around un-used for years. I got myself a cheap starter set of acrylic paints and brushes and a handful of canvases with some gesso. I borrowed some books from the library on the basics of acrylic painting (I took a class over 30 years ago but essentially forgot everything I learned).
And today I did what grabbed me most. I'd been wanting to prime a canvas with black gesso and play with colors on a black background, intending to do a desert nighttime scene. I fooled around with it but wasn't impressed. But you know what? That's ok. With some very fine sandpaper and a couple base coats of white gesso, I can re-use that canvas, no harm, no foul.
Then I took a white gesso primed canvas and began the outlines of a sunrise sky. I didn't finish it. But that's okay. At least I STARTED. I put the mostly unfinished canvas on my bookshelf to glance at it over the next week and come back to it and experiment some more.
I've already learned a few things I need to improve--obviously gaining the skill will be a long, on-going process, but there ARE things I can do to centralize the painting medium in my mind like studying the color wheel and beginning to intrinsically understand how to mix colors. I'll continue to practice mixing, playing with brushstrokes, palette knives, sponges, just to see the effects on canvas and what the possibilities are.
And as my last project of the day, I sketched a TV character. For some reason, I feel driven to learn to pencil draw humans though I haven't been tempted to try and paint a human---probably too chicken right now. Somehow it feels "okay" to waste a piece of sketch paper doodling out a human profile.
Do you see the theme? The key to my busting perfectionism paralysis is giving myself permission to screw up. Don't berate myself for wasting supplies, making an imperfect picture, or spending my time doing a hobby. It's all okay.
Week by week, I'm going to take steps to solve this problem (along with a few others I'm working on in the career front). The only way to bust the perfection bubble is to hit it over the head with a hammer.
Let's hope that over the course of the spring and summer, this will make me more creatively productive and moving forward better than I have in a long time. Creative pursuits aren't just for primary schoolers. They are meant to be enjoyed for a lifetime. And who knows what pleasant surprises pursuit of the creative arts may bring?
Strange name for a blog post, but it's what's on my mind today.
Yep. My shower curtain.
See, my shower curtain functions a lot differently than the way most people use theirs. Oh sure, it's obviously hung in the shower to keep water from flooding my bathroom floor. But that's where the resemblance of my shower curtain and the shower curtain of others ends.
See some shower curtains come with several pockets, ostensibly to store shower accessories like shampoo, a scrub brush, razor, etc. But not my shower curtain.
Instead, I have the pockets facing outward, and each of them, about 10 in all, have not shower accessories, but one line blurbs for novels I anticipate writing.
For example: "The decisions a military man makes between duty and the enemy." That's the blurb for my novel Principle Engagement.
They are not written as one line pitches, per se, but as one line blurbs to remind me of all the story ideas rolling around in my head. Some of those blurbs represent not one novel, but series of novels.
In all, I'd say my shower curtain represents ideas for about 10-15 novels.
I put these blurbs in my shower curtain to give me a daily reminder of all the potential novels I could write and get out there on e-book shelves. Only problem is, life constantly interferes with my plans.
Due to circumstances beyond my control I have less time than ever, barely managing to sleep 4-5 hours each night, much less meeting the basics of survival. In the meantime, those story concepts sit lonely and waiting in the shower curtain. The original plan in placing them there, printed out on white paper, was to color them in a bright bold color, one by one, as each novel was finished. Only one, Principle Engagement, has been colored in (and I want to re-write it). The rest are still printed on lonely white squares as always.
So that leads me back to the age old battle. There is a truth that cannot be escaped.
But I'm not writing.
I'm barely scraping through the daily fight for life as it is. But then that leaves the question: Will I go through life, ending it, wondering what might have been if I had only put fingers to keyboard and completed all those awesome story ideas rolling around in my head? Or will I somehow, in the midst of life's daily battle, find a way to produce these books and get them out there, taking my chances and seeing what opportunities they may hold?
I don't know the answer. But I can tell you I've recently been fueled to think about my writing due to a reason most people would not suspect. Anger. But that is the subject of another post.
In the meantime, since tomorrow is December 1st, the first day of the last month of the year, I am asking myself to squeak out 700 words per week (100 a day). It's not much. It won't get me very far. But it still gets me farther than -0- words per day.
I have traditionally been someone who writes in fits and starts. I doubt that M.O. will change. But we'll see, if for just the last month of the year, if I can produce a small word count and begin bringing creativity back online from the nothingness that has been this year.
With a rare weekend of peace and quiet to think and simply be, my thoughts have finally had a chance to turn back to the world of fiction and how to pump life into my stories. These thoughts inevitably turn me back to the one question I seem to puzzle over relentlessly: what is it that makes unforgettable characters and stories?
And these thoughts inevitably cause me to recall perhaps the strongest, most long-lasting characters of all time--the triumvirate of Kirk, Spock & McCoy from Star Trek the original series. Granted, its a bit of a cheat in the sense that these characters were brought to life on screen and were not limited to the pages of a book.
Still, with Spock as my all time favorite character, and Kirk & McCoy running a close 2nd and 3rd, I asked myself: What is it about these characters that makes me come back to them time and time again? Here's the list that came to mind:
1. Super smart
2. Physically strong
3. Loyal unto death
4. Quick thinker--brings solutions
5. Best friend
6. Different from others around him
7. The best at what he does
8. Distinctive in look
10. Feels deeply
11. Sense of humor
1. Decisive/command abilities
2. Best at what he does
3. Feels deeply
4. Fiercely loyal
5. sense of humor
1. Best at what he does
2. Sense of humor
3. Feels deeply
4. Not afraid to challenge authority
5. Fiercely loyal
What I thought was interesting was that while each of these three characters have traits that are unique to them, I identified four traits that they shared in common:
2. Best at what they do
3. Feel deeply
4. Sense of humor
So then I ask myself: What's my favorite novel of all time? Zane Grey's "Forlorn River." It's main character, known simply as Nevada, also displays all four of the above mentioned traits.
The Hardy Boys series of books that I read as a kid and young adult, also featured characters (my favorite was Frank) who exemplified these four traits.
I recently finished reading James Scott Bell and Tracie Peterson's historical fiction series based on turn of the century female lawyer Kit Shannon. In this case, loyalty and being the best at what she does definitely applied, and to some degree depth of feeling as well, though I'm not so sure about sense of humor.
So the question is, does every standout character in fiction require all of these traits? Some combination? Or maybe standout characters don't require these traits at all and it is simply a measure of what I tend to look for in characters personally.
What are the standout traits of your all time favorite fictional characters?
Today I did something I haven't had a chance to do in a long time. Get back to my novel. The one that's been sitting in my electronic drawer for almost 4 years. 8-)
I have a trait which is both blessing and curse. Perfectionism. On the good side, it means I go the extra mile to be thorough. On the bad side it means I will sit on a story for years tweaking until that elusive moment when it is finally "ready", whatever that means.
I also struggle with one particular piece of writing advice you will hear everybody and their brother repeat: "Write every day."
I have never been able to adhere to this philosophy. I've tried to force myself to adhere to it. I've even faked belief in it, convincing myself that there is no other way. And in short spurts, a few months at a time every year or so, I *can* write every day. But that is not the norm of my life.
There is not one of us who isn't extremely busy. I lose nearly 12 hours a day either at work or trying to get to and from work. I spend another 5+ hours a day on school as I try to shift career direction. And on top of that I have to prepare healthy meals, run errands, attempt some small amount of exercise and small amount of sleep. There is no room in that type of schedule for "write every day."
But I find great benefit in NOT writing every day. My life has taken a significant shift. Being utterly desperate to change career gears, I'm switching from a lifetime business major to a science major, which requires every bit of focus and attention I can muster. When a semester of classes is in session, I can't think creatively of novels and other fiction. I have to think of hard facts and science. But when a semester is over, it is a relief to let my brain switch gears and go back to my novels to see what my brain has been cooking while I've been away.
I got in a nice 4.5 hour session on my novel today. Came up with some new ideas to fix some weak spots in the novel and realized there are some parts I will have to re-write. That kind of clarity can only come from time and distance.
While I absolutely do understand the value of "write every day", and while I realize for some people it is the method that works, a more apt mantra for me appears to be "write infrequently" or "write in spurts". That's how I get things done.
Yes, it makes things take longer. And no one will ever accuse me of being the most prolific writer on the planet. But since most of life is complete and utter tedious drudgery, why would I want to use fiction writing to bludgeon myself? I want to enjoy the process of creativity. At my own pace.