I hate making mistakes, no matter how small. Hate, hate, hate it. I’m one of those perfectionists that psychologists like to lecture about. And I know I’m not alone in the world–there’s a whole lot of perfectionists I know.
Being a perfectionist is a pain in the butt when it’s out of control, because it means one can get stuck in a rut of endless actions done over and over and over, or else one quits too soon. It’s an “all or nothing” mindset.
It’s a good thing babies don’t have this trait. Can you imagine a baby deciding after his first babble: “Hey, that didn’t make sense at all. I must have no ability for talking. I might as well quit now and stay silent.”
And yet I’ve seen people quit endeavors after one or two tries because they weren’t perfect at it. Perfectionism, when allowed to reign out of control, can shackle us in mental chains. We give up too soon. Or don’t even try at all, telling ourselves, “There’s no point, I’d screw it up anyway.”
As a perfectionist who loves to write, there are days when I wonder if I’m just a glutton for self-punishment by doing fiction writing on a daily basis. There are so many balls that need to be kept in the air during the writer’s juggle: plot, characterization, setting, narration style, word choices, grammar, structure, etc….no matter how a writer tries, there’s going to be mistakes.
For instance, I just got back today a corrected novel manuscript from the copy editor, and discovered that I’d accidentally left out a few bits of information about one of the villains that readers needed to know. As the writer I can see into all the character’s heads at the same time, but the reader can only see into the characters by the words that were written on the manuscript page. That’s why writers have first readers go over a manuscript–no matter how hard we try, we will not fill in all of the “lost” information the reader needs.
Still drives me bonkers when I forget to write something down for readers. I’m a perfectionist. I want to get it right the first time.
I’ve had to learn to accept that mistakes are going to happen. I still get upset, but at least I no longer quit or cycle endlessly in revisions. I find it helps to remind myself about my years in QA in the software industry, and how there was a point in the software release cycle where there were diminishing returns on the investment of time in revisions. There comes a point where a manuscript–or a piece of software–begins to fall apart the more you mess with it.
I’ve always like the advice one old pro gave me, which was, “Once you find yourself changing something in the manuscript, then changing it back to how it was before, it’s time to stop revising and send it off.”
There are days I’m sorely tempted to take the current urban fantasy manuscript that is being edited and hide it so that it’ll never see the light of day, even though it’s been read by an editor, several fellow writers, a careful first reader, and a copy editor at this point. My perfectionism flaring up.
I have to keep reminding myself that there comes a point that a piece of work needs to be released into the world to fend its way on its own.
Also, if I’m continually redoing old work to death, new work won’t get done, ala George Lucas and his endless revisions of the Star Wars films. Lucas is going to end up the patron saint of perfectionism at this rate. 😛
So when perfectionism rears its ugly head, remember Saint George…