Perfectection is Meaningless if it’s Never Seen

Week 7 of The Artist’s Way covers a few topics, some of which I skimmed over. The chapter as a whole is dedicated to “recovering a sense of connection”, which is a bit broad.

The first topic is “listening”, which I skimmed through because what we’re supposed to be “listening” to is a higher power guiding our creativity. As previously mentioned, this isn’t exactly my bag. I do agree with a few concepts, such as “get your story down” rather than constantly trying to “make stuff up”, which basically means to listen to your internal creativity rather than constantly trying to “come up” with the next great American novel. You’ll be amazed with what will willingly come out of your own imagination if you just relax and let it happen.

Another topic that I skimmed through was “jealousy”, in which the author goes over the concept of poisoning ourselves by being jealous of those who have made it, those who are living the dream that we dream for ourselves. She talks about how jealousy is an evil that keeps us from our dreams, but that it can also be a useful tool in helping us to achieve them. An exercise she suggests is to make a list of people you are jealous of. Next to the person’s name, write the reason you are jealous of them, and next to that write a constructive idea for how you can better yourself now that you know what you’re jealous of. For example, I might say that I’m jealous of so-and-so because they have a real writing office where they can work in peace, and for my constructive idea I might say that I’ll find a way to section off a small area of my house just for me, in which I can make my own little office. Jealous becomes constructive enhancement, you see?

But the topics I paid most attention to were “perfectionism” and “risk”. Risk is pretty obvious, I think…we’re all afraid of taking them, but sometimes risks are required in order to achieve our goals. For instance, if I send my manuscript into a publisher, I risk receiving a scathing rejection that feels like an arrow through my heart. But if I never take that risk, there’s no chance that I’ll ever receive a glowing acceptance that rockets my writing career forward. That’s life.

Perfectionism might be a little more vague, because depending on who you’re talking to it might be a good thing or a bad thing. I’ve worked with people who were perfectionists, and to the big bosses that seemed like a good thing, because of course they want everything to be done perfectly, but to the people working with those perfectionists on a daily basis it was a constant source of misery, because with a perfectionist you can never get anything done. This is especially true of writers. If there are any writers reading this right now, I’d be willing to bet that if you’re completely honest with yourself, you fall into this category. This was my biggest hindrance for years. I was the writer who re-writes the first chapter over and over again, always coming up with ways to make it better, always trying to make it absolutely perfect before moving on. But the thing is, as any professional, successful writer will tell you, no matter how many times you re-write something, it will never be perfect, it will never satisfy you, and it will never be done. I’ve heard it said that a book is never done, the author simply chose a place to stop. And it’s true. Any story can go a bit further, be shined up a bit more, be added to or changed to make it “better”, but if you move forward with those thoughts in mind, you’ll never end up with a book…you’ll always just have a collection of words in a notebook or a computer file, dying to become a book.

I could finalize those red-lines, then red-line up the red-lines, and just keep going and going until what I've got looks nothing like what I started with, and then keep going some more...
I could finalize those red-lines, then red-line up the red-lines, and just keep going and going until what I’ve got looks nothing like what I started with, and then keep going some more…

None of the tasks for this week actually coincide with the “perfectionist” topic (which I found a bit annoying) so I don’t have anything of the sort to share for this post, but I will make a suggestion of myself for anyone who struggles with perfectionism:

BLOG.

It doesn’t have to be a professional blog, it doesn’t have to be about any one topic in particular. You can treat it like an online diary, or you can address topics you care about. You can share things you think bear sharing (recipes, parenting tips, book reviews), give your opinion on big events happening in the news, or just talk about your day. Whatever you do, do it on a regular basis (three times a week, minimum, seems to be a generally accepted number of days) and make it public. When you write a post, make sure people know about it through Twitter, Facebook, or what-have-you. Gain followers, even if they’re just a scattering of family members and online friends.

I suggest this because blogging is a different beast from writing novels (or painting portraits, or running marathons, or whatever else it is that you’re trying to do with absolute perfectionism). Blogging requires you to get the words on the page and get them sent. If you want to adhere to your schedule (which you do, because you have readers now and you don’t want to disappoint them!) you will get your ass in the chair, write the post, and get it sent. There’s no time to sit there for days at a time, picking at each paragraph, trying to turn your post into a literary masterpiece. You write, you maybe proofread once to make sure you don’t have any terribly embarrassing typos, and you post. Nothing will beat the perfectionism out of you faster than being forced to ignore it on a very regular basis.

Do you fight with perfectionism in your day-to-day life? How do you deal with it? Has it kept you from making headway on your goals? Have you tried blogging, or are you going to try? Have you thought of any other ways to help beat the perfectionism out of you? Please share!

Your Children Know What You Did Last Summer

Children are remarkably perceptive little creatures, and they are ever watching, ever listening, ever learning. Did you know that it is believed that children learn 90% of all the words they’re ever going to learn between the ages of 6 months and 18 months old? The theory is that they spend these months observing, often watching the mouths of others while they speak rather than focusing on their eyes. They learn the sound of the words, along with the motion the mouth makes while saying them, and gather up all this information for later. Only after gathering enough information about the way speech works do they actually attempt it themselves.

Many parents will tell you that you have to start watching what you say when you have kids, and this is definitely true. How often to you catch small children swearing, after all, because they recognize words that their parents say often? I don’t want to speak specifically about speech, however, because most people already realize that kids hear everything. What I want to point out is that kids see and feel everything as well.

I’ll give you an example. My daughter loves to do puzzles, which is awesome because it’s great for her brain, but she always wants myself or my husband to sit with her while she does her puzzles. She doesn’t necessarily want us to join in or anything, she just wants us to be there. So okay, that’s fine; I’ll usually sit with her and have my iPhone or my laptop with me and I’ll pluck away at something while she’s doing her puzzle. I’ll smile and nod and praise her at the appropriate intervals, while also multitasking on something else I have (or want) to do. This is what we were doing a few weeks ago, up in her bedroom. She was plucking away at her Tinkerbell puzzle, and I was praising her while browsing Twitter on my iPhone. What I failed to realize as this was occurring, was that I wasn’t really so much paying attention to her as I was smiling and nodding while focused intently on my phone’s screen. I didn’t notice what I was doing…but she sure did. Even though I was doing basically the same thing that I would have been doing had I not had the phone with me (smile, nod, say “Good job!”), she was fully aware that I wasn’t paying attention, and she didn’t like it. Before I knew what was happening, she stood up, took the phone right out of my hand, placed it on her bookshelf, and said, “There, that’s better!” before returning to her puzzle. I was shocked for a moment, but it didn’t take me long to burst into laughter. She really told me! She knew that I was only paying her lip service while I was glued to the Twittersphere, so she resolved the issue herself.

Kids notice these things. They are a lot more in tune to what is going on around them than adults give them credit for. They know when you’re patronizing them, they can tell when you’re flat-out lying to them, they notice when you’re genuinely upset, they see things that you don’t even realize you’re doing. Think of all the times a child has spouted off a surprising phrase that you didn’t notice you said all the time, or the times a child has followed you around, copying mannerisms you never noticed you even had. If you don’t have kids of your own, think back to when you were a kid. Couldn’t you tell if your mother was sad about something, or your dad had suffered a bad day at work? Didn’t you try to copy the way your mother applied lipstick, or the way your father shaved? And don’t even try to tell me that you can’t think of at least one instance of a parent or a loved one bursting into laughter or getting embarrassed because of something you said, and you didn’t understand what the big deal was because you were just repeating something they had said.

"Don't worry, ma, I've been paying attention and I've totally got this."
“Don’t worry, ma, I’ve been paying attention and I’ve totally got this.”

It’s an important thing to remember when dealing with children, although we tend to forget it more often than not. Remember that this little creature is watching you, seeing everything you do, hearing everything you say, picking up on your emotions and moods, and learning. Most of all, learning. Everything you do or say, everything you present to them in everyday life, is a lesson. What are you going to teach your children today?