Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Paralyzed Perfectionist

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by Sarah S. 

I have a TERRIFIC new novel.  No, really. You would love it! The plot would enthrall you, the storyline would keep you up at night and the characters, brimming with rich emotional complexity, would literally make you swoon. After reading the last line of this absorbing narrative your only question would be “Where can I get the sequel?” 

So now, of course, you find yourself wondering where you can acquire this masterful piece of fiction, Right? Well, here’s the thing, it’s currently unavailable except in the murky alcoves of my mind and I can’t recommend rummaging around in there (it’s scary sometimes!) Still this story which has been expanding through every nook and cranny of my brain over the past few years deserves to be released. I don’t mean “released” as in lining the shelves of bookstores near you so much as freed from the confines of my imagination. 

This story must be written if for no other reason than to liberate my dear characters for whom I’ve developed such a deep affection. I worry about them and wonder what they’re up to. I decorate their homes, name their pets and augment their back stories with details that will never find their way into the finished product, but particulars that are nonetheless critical to informing the habits, motives and choices of these individuals.

So why haven’t I written all this down? Good question. It’s Plato’s fault. Rather, it’s related to Plato’s concept of ideal forms.This ancient theory holds that the perfect representation of a thing cannot be adequately expressed in the material world and is, therefore, always inferior to it’s archetype which exists only in the immaterial realm. Or something like that. Anyway, the notion of ideal forms illustrates well the problem of paralyzed perfectionism that can infect even the most prodigious writers. 

Anne Lamott counsels that “Perfectionism is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. “ Oh, how I cringe over the shitty first draft. It’s so painful. Fortunately I am privy to the sage advice from all of you wonderful Northern Colorado Writers. I have learned so much from reading your posts in which you generously share your tips, tricks, foibles, failures and successes. It truly is inspiring. 

Beyond Plato and Anne Lamott, perhaps the best answer for how to combat crippling perfectionism can be found in Richard’s last post in which he advises just “Git ir Done”. Wise words indeed! 


Jenny said...

I am similarly paralyzed more often than I want to admit. Darn that Plato. I think he's also the reason I can't keep my kitchen table clutter-free.

Bill Lamperes said...

Fortunately for you, Plato is dead, and with his human demise, it freed the world to seek perfection with the understanding nothing we ever do will ever be perfect.

The emotionally charged characters you describe are begging to be released into the world of imperfection so we mortal souls can reflect on the human condition and realize we have much in common. All of us are striving to be the best we can and to make a difference with others.
You have locked in your brain a piece of immortality. Let those characters breath into the pages of the novel you created. Think of the publishing of your story as a gift to all of us... a gift to assist us cope with the mysteries and challenges of life.
So, in short, stop procrastinating, acquire a "butt-in-chair" philosophy, write it...complete the manuscript, edit and publish it. Anything less would be an act of selfishness because you deprive readers of essential insights into life.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like you're letting your inner critic inhibit you. You need to ditch that person and just write the novel. Good luck.

Lynn said...

I get worried when I think that my characters are going to be trapped in my mind for eternity. How sad is that? So I forget even thinking about a first draft and write down one snippet of a scene, or a pinch of dialogue, or an image involving the weather. Anything. And call it progress :)

Sarah Sullivan said...

Wow! Thank you all for the wonderful, funny and supportive comments! Your words inspire me.

Shirley Drew said...

Please--do tell! Ha! A great post!

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