Copyright © 2002 by Angela Booth
It's Saturday afternoon. Your partner has taken kids to park. You have a whole hour to write. Instead of which, you sit, staring out window like Rodin's Thinker in jeans and a yellow sweatshirt. Why aren't you writing? A tiny item called Perfection Syndrome. You want whatever you write in this precious hour to be perfect.
During week, you had a stream of plausible ideas. You wrote three ideas in your notebook: an article about children's first words (your six month old said 'truck'), an essay about male vanity, and a short story about a blonde with tattooed arms and a poodle.
Just now, none of those ideas seems right. You've only got an hour, so you want perfect idea, one that will justify sixty minutes you're about to spend on it. Instead, you do nothing.
Perfection Syndrome can destroy your writing career. It's a killer, because if you don't recognise it for what it is, it leads to apathy. The gap between what's in your head and what manifests on page is so wide that you may give up writing for days or weeks.
I understand Perfection Syndrome, because it's something I battle every day. The words on screen or page never measure up to words in my head. I start typing, and after a sentence or two, stop. The words "this is garbage" light up like neon in my skull, my stomach clenches, and I feel as if a ten ton weight had dropped onto my body. It's not as if I'm a new writer. I've been writing for over 20 years. Intellectually, I understand that it's important to get words onto screen --- any words. You can fix whatever you write. Emotionally, I want first draft to be perfect. I've accepted that perfectionism is part of my personality, and without a personality transplant, I'm never going to get rid of it, so all I can do is out-write it.
Yes, out-write it. A practice that's helped is Julia Cameron's Morning Pages method, which is detailed in her books: The Artist's Way, and Vein of Gold. The first thing I do each morning is write three pages in longhand. This primes pump, and if I accomplish Morning Pages, I know that I can count on a productive writing day, and Perfection Syndrome is beaten for this 24 hours at least.
Updating my inner "writer" image also helped. Images are language of right brain and subconscious mind. Your subconscious mind is engine which drives you. My initial image of my writing self was of a mountain climber, clinging to vertical rock and ice, unable to see mountain peak, but terrorized by a crevasse below. No wonder I needed every word to be perfect, if alternative was death. A more nourishing image popped into my mind. I saw my writing self as a seed-sower, old-time kind, with a deep hessian bag of seeds, walking along furrows of a field of fertile soil, scattering seeds with both hands. Now, whenever I feel panicked about my writing, I visualize myself as sower, scattering those seeds. Ask yourself what image you hold of yourself as a writer.