Ahh, perfectionism. I started this blog for the express purpose of exorcising that demon. I thought what if, instead of the meticulous, painstakingly slow process I put myself through to shape a piece until I think it’s ready for publication (and then endure the self-absorbed drop in self-esteem if that piece isn’t accepted)—what if, instead of all that, I just blogged? Surely that would cure me of my perfectionist tendencies, right?
Just blogged. Kind of silly, when you think about it. Who sits down to their computer or laptop and fires off something ready to be shared with the world? Who does that? Maybe people who, ever since blogging was invented, have been showing up, “butt in chair,” as Anne Lamott says, ready to write “shitty first drafts” (Lamott again, @Anne Lamott). People who realized that, to succeed, you have to show up, and that when you get stuck, you should, as William Stafford said, “lower your standards and keep going” (K. Stafford 186). Those who were brave enough not to focus first on the details, not to perseverate on turns of phrase, word choice, sentence structure, and vivid, compelling imagery, but those who focused on getting the ideas down and revising later. Those are the people who might, now, after their many years of practice, flip open their laptops and fire off a scintillating post with only a little need for revision. But I’m not one of them.
Oh, I write. Some. Mostly, I teach writing. Just freewrite, I say, don’t worry about the details in this first draft. Just get everything down on the paper; you can go back and fix things later. Just get in that writing practice!
But do I take my own advice? I get my butt in the chair, but I don’t often enough make it to Lamott’s “shitty first draft” stage. Lately, I fritter. I just scratch the writing itch: gnaw on a few worries a while, cook up some navel-gazing anxiety stew, stuff all that into some journal or electronic file, and call it a day.
Why? Because frittering is easier, so much easier, than facing the blank page and coming to terms with the worry that what if, after all, I really don’t have that much to say? What if I have to dig even deeper, reach further into the drawer where the uglier, harder-to-tell stories are? What if, once I write one of those, I decide I’m a terrible writer, that anything I’ve ever had published was just some accident, a fluke? What if that makes me shut the whole drawer, once and for all?
One of my favorite college professors typed these comments on one of my papers: “Don’t waste your time with frittering; frittering will lead to endless frustration.” Rather, he said I needed to write what I couldn’t “NOT write,” not just scratch the itch, but write what makes my fingers feel strong and full. I xeroxed the note he wrote on my paper, and I framed it. Thirty-four years later, it still hangs above my work space.
I wondered then how my professor knew me so well, could give such good advice. But recently, I’ve realized that he might not have been speaking from an abundance of having written all that made his fingers feel “strong and full.” Maybe he was writing that advice to himself, too. It takes one to know one, I’ve learned. He recognized in my stifled attempt at creative nonfiction, or whatever drivel I’d turned in to him for comment, the same “endless frittering” he’d experienced himself, at least sometimes. Otherwise, how could he have so precisely hit that nail on the head?
So, I’ll show up. Write daily. And after some daily writing, maybe add something to my blog a little more often. Then, I will have published something new, and it will be more than grocery lists and New Year’s resolutions and lists of anxieties to review with a therapist. It will be something.
Lamott, Anne. @Anne Lamott. Twitter, 29 Jan. 2014. Web. 27 June 2015.
Stafford, William, qtd. in Stafford, Kim. 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do. San Antonio, TX: Trinity University Press, 2012. Print.