Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
It is so hard not be a perfectionist.
Which is pretty funny, actually, because, you know, practice makes perfect, and I’ve practiced being a perfectionist for about twenty years.
I was (am?) the kind of perfectionist who does a few things “perfectly”–writing, school, baking autumnal variations of Toll House chocolate chip cookies. For a while, this made me very powerful, because I was also the kind of perfectionist who classed into mild narcissism. Perfection was the only possible outcome.
Like, when I was a junior in high school, my creative writing teacher set the class a challenge: If anyone completed the NaNoWriMo challenge, she would take them out to dinner.
And I just…did it. I wrote 50,000+ words of a novel called A Chimney Without a House, which was about a disillusioned young dude going on a roadtrip after his abusive best friend died in a car crash. When my parents and I met my teacher for dinner at Outback Steakhouse, she told me over coconut shrimp that she had been surprised by how much swearing my characters did.
I still want that review on a dust jacket.
Afterwards, I never finished the manuscript. I never even really went back to the story at all except to make character sheets with minute physical descriptions, like whether the characters had red, blue, or yellow undertones to their skin. The next year, when November came around, I didn’t try NaNoWriMo at all. If I couldn’t be perfect, then what was the point of being?
I know this is a familiar story–perfection paralyzing us–but I’m telling it because I can’t stop being surprised at how hard it is to believe the narrative that perfection isn’t healthy and how easy it is to keep saying that I need to be the exception to the rule, and I need to produce an immaculate piece of fiction the first time around. It’s difficult for me to grasp that I don’t need to get it right the first time around and that the whole point is to try over and over and over and over.
It’s easier for me to believe the story that I need to be perfect because that’s the only story I’ve been telling myself. But it’s not a story–there’s no plot or conflict or characterization. It’s just an ending, and you can’t do shit with an ending on its own because you literally can’t get there. So, here’s a different story: I am working my ass off this NaNoWriMo, but not in a way that makes me want to cry, and I think that means that I’m doing the right thing.
I saw a tweet recently (probably when I was supposed to be writing) that said something like, “You can only have good body image if you stop caring whether or not you’re hot.” And at first, I thought, “fuck your principles, I want a bubble butt,” but they’re right. I don’t think I’ll ever really love writing–the thing that I’m going to spend a sum total of seven years on in higher education, the thing that I ostensibly want to do for the rest of my life–until I stop figuring out whether or not it’s perfect.
This NaNoWriMo season, I’ve routinely been anywhere from 1000 to 7000 words behind the target word count. I’ve never been ahead. But, you know, it’s worth it. The work is worth it.
Anyway, if you’re reading this and you’re NaNo-ing too, add me as a buddy @bearika_skye. I’m writing about queer mermaids this year ❤