Monday, 14 June 2010

The madness of perfection

“Were I to await perfection, my book would never be finished” Chinese Proverb

There's no doubt about the fact that I am a perfectionist. I have always been quite driven in the things that I have done, and perfectionism has motivated me to a number of accomplishments. (none of them very useful though, unfortunately..) My perfectionism can help me in my writing too, as I constantly strive to express myself in the way in which I do in my imagination. My quest for the perfect sentence or image is ongoing. And that can be a good thing for my writing. Even now I'm thinking as I write this that I am not quite saying exactly what I want to convey and that there must be a better way...

However, one of the negative aspects of perfectionism is procrastination, and I believe I have blogged about that at least once before. (although don't ask me where because I haven't tagged all my posts like I should have....) Anxiety about creating has prevented me from writing at all. Faced with the possibility of not writing well, historically I have preferred not to try.

Julia Cameron writes about perfectionism in her book The Artist's Way. She says that, instead of being a quest for the best, perfectionism can turn into a paralysing hyper-critical state which can turn creativity into a reductionist approach that lacks passion. In her view perfectionism is '....a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough...' And that is why rejection can be so catastrophic for me at times, because my confidence is inversely proportional to my perfectionism! When I send some writing out into the world and it is rejected, I just want to give up. I ask myself why I am putting myself through it all, and it is easy to be propelled into a general low-level depression about writing. I think to myself, 'Well, if you can't do it well, then don't do it at all. Try canoeing or flower arranging instead.'

But, of course, that is exactly the wrong approach. Because, as Voltaire said,
'Perfection is attained by degrees; it requires the slow hand of time.'

I think you could substitute the word 'meaning' for 'perfection' in that Voltaire quotation and come close to what writing is about for me. It is about casting about (blindly) to try to make some meaning and find some sense of the life I have chosen and the time and place in which I am living it. I suppose that is a life's work, really. I can't see myself suddenly waking up one morning and going 'Oh!! So that's what it's all about! Well, I can relax now.' Giving up writing is not an option. But I suppose that exposing my writing to public scrutiny might well be. I guess that all depends on why I am writing in the first place; for me or for others? So maybe I should just relax and take it easy for a while. Write only for myself. Nurture my writerly self.

And I guess the following quotation is true:
'Have no fear of perfection- you'll never reach it.' Salvador Dali

That is, if there is any such thing as 'perfection'! It must be true that anything that is worth striving for happens incrementally, as a result of silted layers of trial, error, blood, sweat and tears. It is probably only in retrospect that most artists see a pattern in their work. When you are in the thick of it, it is very much a wood and trees scenario. So I suppose what I am saying is that I muddle on. That I have to. And I try to move out of my (critical) head and into creative action.