“[Nurture] all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. To accept these realities is to accept contentment as the maturation of happiness, and to acknowledge that clarity and grace can be found in genuine unvarnished existence.” ~ Richard Powell
This quote jumped out at me someone’s email signature recently and I had to write it down. It speaks to me so much as a writer. Especially the last two, but I think that the first is an important point as well. As I am learning to manage my anxiety and struggling to establish a meditation practice in my life (something I’ve been trying to do on and off for the past couple of years), clarity is important to me. Clarity of purpose in life and clarity of vision in my writing, and not letting myself being intimidated by things I don’t know how to do. The world building and amount of research I have ahead of me for my novel is daunting but I have to go for it or the story will never get written.
So let’s break this down.
One of the classic reasons to write is to create something that will last after you’re gone. It’s to preserve ideas, for sure, but I can’t really imagine anyone who doesn’t, in some corner of their soul, want to have a little slice of cover-bound immortality. Even if you factor in the universe outliving the human race (which is the ultimate “nothing lasts”), a writer’s words might stick around for generations and that’s still better than what we could do with our own lifespans.
What definitely doesn’t last are the little roadblocks of writing. A hundred years from now, it’s not going to matter which chapters that gave you the most headache or how many hard criticisms you have to hear along the way. With anything that makes me frustrated or upset, it’s important to breathe, take a step back, and view it with only as much passion as is necessary. I’m working on having a better perspective in life; not everything is personal or the end of the world.
In the audiobook copy I have of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, before the story starts he mentions that this is the anniversary edition and he’s made some changes since the original publishing. It is always possible to go back and edit, even if no one else ever notices. You do you! Perfectionism is great only up to the point where it might prevent you for ever completing a project – but it’s always possible to pick a story back up later and work on it some more.
On the other hand, I’ve also experienced anxiety about not making enough progress quickly enough, like with my novel. This was technically only true during NaNoWriMo, and then I kept reminding myself that it was a voluntary challenge, it wasn’t the end of the world if I didn’t win, and I would still be able to work in the story after November regardless of how the month went. Now that I’m not under a deadline (unless I chose to self-impose one), there’s no reason for me to worry about when Growing Magic will be finished. I’m letting it happen at its own pace, when I have time and/or the ideas percolating in my head have come together just right, and not stress me out.
Perfectionism kills me. It is the stake through the heart of momentum, because as I mentioned just a paragraph or two ago it can keep me from every finished a story. Raise your hand if you know the feeling.
It’s not perfect. It’s not going to be perfect, and “perfect” isn’t what I should be aiming for anyway, it’s too vague and subjective. I want my prose to flow well, the characters to be well developed, the settings to be in the background but in a well balanced way, and so on. I’ll never make it perfect — but if I decide what perfect means to me, break it down into its component parts, maybe it becomes achievable.
Like in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, when Deep Thought points out that the problem with understanding the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything is that no one has ever really known what the question is. What do you do when you ask how to be perfect, and someone tells you that the answer is 42?