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Still trying to slay that dragon

Don’t be a Perfectionist. It will only lead to procrastination. And you know where that gets you quickly: NOWHERE!! Life’s too short–take a chance, make a mistake. You will still be loved, maybe even more than if you insist on being perfect.

I’ve never been a fan of the telephone. Before caller ID flashed on our television screen, before it flashed on just the telephone display, back when you didn’t know who was on the other end of the line, my husband or one of our daughters would have to answer the damn thing.

As for me picking up the phone and initiating a call? Not unless there was absolutely no other means of communication available.

Apparently I haven’t outgrown this. Yesterday waiting with my mother for her appointment with her cardiologist, I looked across the hall and spotted a fellow DAR member (Darlene) who has just moved back to the area and lacks email or internet service. The only means of remote communication with her is via the telephone. Darlene: I’ve been waiting to hear back from you. Me, vaguely gesturing toward my mother: I’ve been busy, sorry. (I couldn’t very well tell her about my issues with the telephone. The mental health department is right down the hall.)

Was I confident that if I waited long enough I would run into Darlene—who lives thirty miles away from me in another state? No, I’m not that bad. I would have called her. Eventually. When I couldn’t put it off another minute. And I mean minute.

Once again, with our random meeting, I was rewarded for my procrastination.

Stuart Little

I remember the first time I procrastinated. Not everyone remembers their first time, I bet. Second grade. My “Stuart Little” book report was due. It wasn’t a written book report. We had to dress up as a character for an oral presentation to the entire class. I pretended to be sick and stayed home from school.  After a day spent in bed moaning whenever my mother checked on me, the book report went well, mouse tail and all.

Once upon a time I was a teen. I eagerly awaited the ringing of the phone followed by long conversations when I stretched the curly telephone cord to its ironed length to talk to my friends, especially boyfriends, away from the watchful ears of my parents.

Then something happened and the Perfectionist switch was turned on full-time.

I have analyzed my extreme dislike of the telephone. Clearly I am more comfortable with the written word. I can edit my response, I can let it ferment, I can make certain that all information is accurate. I can be a perfectionist when I talk to people in writing. On the phone (or in person), who knows what will—or has—come out of my mouth.

My writing battle with perfectionism and procrastination should be well known to you by now. I still am trying to slay that dragon.


It Has to be Good, Not Perfect

The sun pours down on my life today. Actually, a thunderstorm is approaching, but to me, all is light and life. I gave a talk yesterday to a foreign affairs discussion group I belong to. Today, therefore, I no longer have to give a talk to the foreign affairs discussion group!

Speaking in public is not a problem for me. It’s the fear of making a mistake that wrecks my life. The search for correctness on every last tiny point ate up last week like the Tazmanian Devil pouncing on its prey. I had a good grasp on my material. But what if that date (2005) should actually be 2004? Google it. It was 2005. What if…? Google it. I spent more time in Google than in Word.

Because I spent the week obsessing, I printed my handouts at the last minute. My printer broke down. I switched to my husband’s printer, got one file completed, and the printer suddenly began taking its orders from Mars. Half a ream of paper was wasted before I finished the task. My office looked as if Dirty Harry had ransacked it.

No time for a shower before leaving. I plastered my hair down with a comb so severely that no one could doubt I intended it to look that way, for some unfathomable reason. Since I know where all the local speed traps are, I walked into the meeting room right on time, wearing an easy expression of ‘no sweat!’ Which made me think of the missed shower again.

And it all went fine. It almost always does. And so what if I had made a mistake or two? The world would not have ended. I would not have been damned for all eternity.

You wouldn’t think that writing fiction would be as susceptible to the search for perfect truth as reportage. You’re supposed to make fiction up. The writer is responsible for all the truth in the fiction. Unhappily, s/he gets none of the feedback offered by the real world when truths collide. In life, a brook simply will not run uphill. In your book, it can run one way in Chapter 3 and the other in Chapter 11. Until some kind or not-so-kind reader points that out.

The perfection trap doesn’t confine itself to fictional facts. When every flaw catches your eye equally, whether it’s a poor word choice or a gaping plot hole, progress can be agonizingly slow. I’ve managed to bring forth a first draft. I’ve rewritten, rewritten the rewrites and … you finish the sentence, assuming it ever ends. A draft that really needs only a clean-up is still miles over the horizon.

Perhaps it’s a trick of focal distance. The present plan is to focus on plot, plot, plot and never mind the rest. And we all know how to find out whether that’s a good idea. 1) Apply rear end to chair. 2) Write.

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