If I had an orchard, I’d work till I’m raw

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I’ve made rather slow progress on rewriting my book as of late.

I basically hate the rewriting process thusfar.

I’m a recovering perfectionist. Perfectionism is one of the most destructive impulses a writer can have, in my opinion, and yet there are hordes of us with the inane urge to get things, well, perfect. 

As a recovering perfectionist, I finally recognize that there is no such thing as perfection in any creative field, period. I have had to correct my own students countless times when they think using the terms “perfect” and “perfection” are not only acceptable, but accurate in terms of describing a writer’s finished product. I tell them over and over: perfection is not attainable. Just finish the draft. Just finish the rewrite. Just finish the revision.

As a recovering perfectionist and a reader, I understand that any story I read and perceive as being “perfect” is, from the writer’s perspective, probably riddled with obvious, grating flaws. But there came a point when said writer just had to surrender the notion of perfection and simply do the work, finish the damn thing, and get it out there.

As a recovering perfectionist, I logically know all this, and I know that perfection is my enemy. But that still doesn’t keep me from wanting things to be, well, perfect. 

And thus I end up avoiding writing, or fretting about what I do write, and then rewriting what I just finished, and never really moving forward. It’s exhausting and dispiriting.

It’s something I’ll have to work through, even if it’s by whinging and wailing over it.

However, acknowledging why I’m having difficulty has helped me to recognize that I’m only having difficulty accepting parts of the process right now. It’s not actual difficulties with the story itself. In fact, this whole whinge has reminded me of all the things that I really love and enjoy about the story. These include, but are not limited to:

  • The main character. He’s rather sharp, and funny in his own way, knowing and oblivious by turns. It’s been interesting to get to know him again, and to learn new things about him.
  • The voice. I am relearning the main character’s voice and have had to make huge changes, in fact, to accommodate the story. I’m enjoying the process of re-learning his voice and seeing it solidify more and more each day.
  • The themes. There is a lot of discussion about difference and culture in the story, and I’m enjoying how the discussion on culture and difference is playing out so far, particularly with things like race, power, class, and gender.

So all and all, progress.

As a recovering perfectionist, I shall choose to be happy with this, and proud of what I have accomplished, rather than worrying that what I have just finished is not good enough.

2 thoughts on “If I had an orchard, I’d work till I’m raw

  1. This is a real revelation to me. I think I really needed someone to say to me ‘perfection is not attainable’ with my writing. I have 3 unfinished novels that I can’t bear to look at because of all the rewriting I would have to do to make them perfect. I need to let that idea go and just do it.

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    1. Perfection is your enemy! Finish rewriting those books. And remember it will never be perfect. You might check out Justine Larbalestier’s blog. She gives some pretty good, non-nonsense advice on writing and rewriting, especially novels:

      http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2006/09/06/how-to-write-a-novel/

      http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2008/01/02/how-to-rewrite/

      http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2012/07/17/finished-the-first-draft-time-for-the-real-work-to-begin/

      Good luck.

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