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Perfectionism- As A Vice


JamesSavik

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I've been in that same funk since I finished writing The Navigator in March. Nothing I've written since has even come close to how that story felt for me, except maybe the Halloween short story I'm working on right now. The stats have proven it for me, too. No one else likes my new stuff as much as my old stuff, either. It makes one wonder if he's lost his mind, but he's certainly lost his muse.

I kept writing anyway, even though it wasn't good enough. And I released it anyway, even though it wasn't good enough. I've been told that my recent stuff is predictable and pretentious, and quite honestly I have a hard time disagreeing with those assessments.  

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I always hate what I write. I always think it's not good enough. I doubt my ability to imagine things properly, I doubt my language skills. I have a few not so kind choice words, as soon as I see the pictures for my stories in my head the very first time. And I do have some very good friends, who stop me from deleting my stories, who encourage me and bind my hand behind my back as soon as I go near the delete button. I know I won't ever win any prize for my writing. If I feel adventurous, I write poetry and I could hug AC to pieces for giving me the good feeling back.

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The writer is often the severest critic of his own work. It is very common for an artist, and literature is art, to feel that he is committing some type of fraud even when he is experiencing success. I personally think that the value of any artist's work lies in the eyes of those who appreciate it. Even if, for some reason, that number of beholders is small, someone does like it and for those it has value. You can overthink and overestimate the value of cold statistics as well as the opinions of those who do not actually write themselves. Capote took a line from an old Arab poem when he dismissed critics of his work. "The dogs bark in the night, but the caravan moves on." It's a good attitude to keep in mind. You have to consider that there have been writers whose work was not greatly appreciated in their time. The names Kafka, Thoreau. Poe, and John Kennedy Toole should all be recognized as falling in that category.

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I feel this way sometimes, too.  I've been struggling with getting anything out lately, and I hope it passes soon.  For what it's worth James, I really like your writing and look forward to reading your work.  :hug: 

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I went through this for two years. I had trouble motivating myself to write and when I did, it was rubbish. I eventually came out of it, but even now I look at what I'm writing and worry that it's not up to the standard of my earlier work. I'm just finishing up a short story for Halloween, but the amount I wrote is probably three times what's ended up in the story because of the amount of write-then-delete-because-it-was-crap I did.

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  • 5 months later...

Yeah, it's my biggest enemy too. The reason I don't write as much as I do is that I won't continue to sit down and work with it if I don't feel I'm In the Zone. If it feels second-rate as it comes off my fingers, I'm outta there and off doing something else. And I know that This Is Not Good. So I'm trying to change...

 

But I hate it when I write crap.

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I have a whole section in my (digital) notebook reserved for bits and pieces of stories I didn't quite like or had no energy to continue. Instead of deleting the stuff you don't quite like, just throw it somewhere where it can sit and stew. If you delete everything, you'll start feeling like you didn't do anything, instead of just having written something you don't like. And on top of having something to show you're making progress, keeping the bad stuff gives you the chance to compare the things you like better to it :)

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  • 2 months later...

I struggle with perfectionism a lot in all my writing, whether it is for work or for fun. I can spend endless amounts of time writing and rewriting a sentence to get it just the way I want it, and then set that chapter aside... and then when I go back for another pass through start reworking and rewriting things again. It's endless. At some point you just have to let it go but it's hard to do it.

 

I don't think I've ever gotten so frustrated that I've outright deleted everything, but I've walked away from things I've felt are complete shit. I kept the files in the name of posterity, for whatever reason. Maybe some day I'll go back to those stories and start again, stealing the characters from myself and reshaping them inside a plot that is actually compelling and not completely derivative.

 

(As if I'm capable of that.)

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  • 2 weeks later...

I struggle with perfectionism a lot in all my writing, whether it is for work or for fun. I can spend endless amounts of time writing and rewriting a sentence to get it just the way I want it, and then set that chapter aside... and then when I go back for another pass through start reworking and rewriting things again. It's endless. At some point you just have to let it go but it's hard to do it.

 

I don't think I've ever gotten so frustrated that I've outright deleted everything, but I've walked away from things I've felt are complete shit. I kept the files in the name of posterity, for whatever reason. Maybe some day I'll go back to those stories and start again, stealing the characters from myself and reshaping them inside a plot that is actually compelling and not completely derivative.

 

(As if I'm capable of that.)

 

Delete that last sentence, you're tearing yourself down :) Yes, you're capable. Don't tell yourself otherwise, you're risking creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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  • 2 weeks later...

When I was doing my music composition degree, my composition professor actually had me work on a couple projects where I wasn't allowed to revise anything at all until the piece was fully written. We did some shorts and a longer piece. The oddest thing was that it was some of my best music writing, perhaps because it just flowed naturally. Maybe. It still needed some revisions, but I could let go of it a bit easier. Maybe it was because I had someone pushing me to let go, though. I guess I need to learn to do that with my writing too.

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This is a good article about writing a rough draft--and peripherally about how much of a perfectionist you should focus on being when you write it--linked on FB by Elizabeth North, the owner of Dreamspinner Press. I thought it a very good analogy and helpful if you're an author who doesn't have to write in a linear fashion, which, alas, I am!

 

Cover the Canvas by Steven Pressfield

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