Monday, March 7, 2011

Inspiration: Persecuting the Perfectionist

March is here and most of us could use a little inspiration. The weather may be dreary, we may have lost sight of our plot arcs and character goals, and as the days get longer our desire to do the work ahead may become shorter. So all of March is going to be an ode to inspiration!

 I am not one of those writers that brandish a whip and berate myself when the day’s prose is not worthy. I don’t have a vision of what perfect prose is. 

I don’t write sloppy—not once a book is published—but I do experiment. I make mistakes. I try. If there is a word for the kind of writer I am it is (and I just made this up) a Trier. 

Are there any other Triers out there?

Triers are brave. We show up. We know there is work to do. We know it won’t be easy but we try.
My mother tells this story about me. When I was a little girl I had trouble learning to ride my bike. I came back in the house every afternoon with more and more bruises. Black ones, blue ones, and as they healed they turned that sickening greenish brown color. I didn’t hurt myself on purpose but I didn’t mind the bruises. They were my war wounds. I wanted to ride that red bike with its read and white seat and by golly I was going to. 

My mom once took the bike away from me for a few weeks. She worried I was hurting myself and she also worried the school nurse would take one look at me and call up Children’s Services having come to the conclusion some kind of abuse was going on. 

Was it self-abuse?

No, I don’t think so. I had a goal and I was going for it. I was not going to let a few bruises stop me.
Pursuing publishing has given me, like all authors, a fair number of bruises but the little girl writer in me-the Trier—remains unscathed. 

One of my fave artists, Suzan-Lori Parks 
When I saw Pulitzer playwright Suzan-Lori Parks speak recently, she told us all to lower the bar, to lower the perfectionistic standards that can keep us from creating art. That can keep us from trying. And in the Jan/Feb addition of Poets & Writers, debut author Jenny Shank (The Ringer, Permanent Press) reinforces this idea. Use it as a permission card to try. She writes:

I’m not going to dazzle anyone with lyricism or structural ingenuity. But I put my head down and work and sometimes a story comes of it. I ham-and-egg my way through. It took me a long time to figure out that not every writer has to be brilliant.”

So lower that bar. Be a ham-and-egger and write.


  1. Your timing is perfect. I'm trying to squash Mr. Perfectionist, but he puts up a really good fight.

  2. Gene, I am going to have Lindsey Lane's perfectionist (who commented on the livejournal version of the blog) duke it out with your perfectionist...maybe they will beat each other into submission.