imperfectionism

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NaNoWriMo teaches me something different every year. Ordinarily, it’s something about writing, the craft of stringing words together in such a way that they elicit feelings and thoughts. It’s magic, really. This year it taught me something that had nothing to do with writing, per se, but with life. I am a perfectionist toward the things I care about. Toward my novels, toward my artwork. While I feel free to be relaxed and easy in other areas of my life, the things that hold my passion are forced to endure my neverending ‘fixing.’ And the fixing can’t wait – I have to do it right now, this minute. To know that something of mine is sitting, imperfect, is an itch under my skin.

I’m working through half a dozen art commissions, and I can’t set a drawing down and leave it. I have to sit there for three hours until it’s completed. And, as Michelangelo said, it’s never really finished in the artist’s mind. No matter how much I like the finished product, if I kept it, I would always, always find something wrong with it, find more things to fix.

When I sit down to write, I don’t feel I can stop until I’ve completed at least one six-page chapter. Even if my muse is silent and my inspiration withered and dry, I force myself to put words I don’t feel on a page because if I don’t, I feel as if I’ve let down myself and my readers.

Too often, I refuse to let myself slow down, to relax, to shut up the side of me that tells me I’m not good enough if I’m not the best. Sometimes I remember and sometimes, it works. During these brief moments I pick up a pencil and open up my sketchbook not to draw a masterpiece, but to scribble messy lines and an idea for later, something to make me smile. I open up a notebook and take a pen and I write down ideas, possible directions my novel could take, what I love about it. I am reminded that slowing down is a good thing, that God is the only true perfection and thinking I can somehow achieve that is not only foolish, but borderline blasphemous.

I allow myself to realize that I can’t fix everything, that I can’t be all things to everyone. That people understand I’m only human, even if I don’t. I take a deep breath, delete those last few sad paragraphs, or crumple up that stubborn drawing, and I start over. Or maybe I don’t, not today, not right now. After all, nobody’s perfect.

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4 thoughts on “imperfectionism

  1. Back in 2010 John Howe gave me advice for my art: slow down (in the very VERY condensed form). But basically, I knew what he meant and what he meant, intended and told me changed my art so much.

    And I totally get what you mean about forcing yourself to slow down. Something else that helps me do this in/with art is to sometimes put a drawing down for an hour or a day and come back to it later with a fresh pair of eyes.

    I learned this in school. I was totally engrossed in homework and my drawings are making As, even when I didn’t stand up and walk away for a bit. But towards the end I realised this habit, and that if I had walked away for a moment and then come back, I would have a fresh look and could view it more objectively to change things that needed changed. It helps me so much :)

    So, since you’re touching on this anyway, if there’s any way you can make yourself walk away for even ten minutes, and then come back to look at your work with a fresh point of view, at least *try* to do so! :) Your art is fantastic, but I think you know what I mean? :) It helps!

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