Wednesday, February 6, 2013
On October 11, 2012, E.S. Ivy wrote, As to why do I finish some (projects) and not others, and why do I fail to finish: I have found that I'm much more likely to finish a project for another person than I am for myself. For example, when I was expecting my first child, I crocheted a dress for my cousin's baby with a similar due date, but got nothing so elaborate made for my own. :)I noticed a similarity in Lark's situation.
My difficulty in finishing, or even progressing, in a book is the fear of not getting it "perfect."
I know those are two of my hurdles, but I haven't quite figured out how to gracefully sail over them yet.
Two topics here:
∙ The ease of finishing something for someone else and the difficulty when the project is just for oneself;
∙ Fear of imperfection.
These are deep-seated issues that many of us struggle with our whole lives. I do! I don’t know how to discuss either one without getting a tad psychological.
When I was little the worst criticism that could be leveled at anyone was that he or she was selfish. If you were selfish, you were evil.
In E. S. Ivy’s example, I suppose it could be called selfish to finish a dress for her own baby because, while the baby may enjoy it, the chief delight will probably belong to E. S. Ivy, in seeing how adorable the baby looks and in feeling pride for having created the effect. And for having created the baby! Mixed in (I am completely guessing here) is the amazing luck of having a healthy child. Good fortune can be hard to tolerate when other people are suffering - and other people somewhere are always suffering.
But E. S. Ivy didn’t cause anybody’s misery.
Don’t get me wrong. Making others suffer so that we can enjoy is terrible. Ignoring the troubles of others for our own comfort stinks. Real selfishness is bad. But we’re not talking about that kind of selfishness. We’re talking about pleasure that harms no one and may help some.
Let’s stick with the baby dress example, but let’s make the crocheter someone other than E. S. Ivy, maybe a character named Barbara in a story, and let’s think about the happiness Barbara’s baby’s dress, created as a selfish act, may bring other people. Barbara takes the baby - Carlie - with her when she goes shopping at the supermarket, and the sight of Carlie in her dress makes the cashier’s day. The cashier’s last customer was horrible, but Carlie wipes out the bad taste. For the whole rest of the day the image of the baby in the great dress makes the cashier smile. That night she even falls asleep with the image in her mind.
In a larger sense, someone else’s good fortune is a blessing for sufferers, a promise that things can get better, a comfort that even if matters are going very badly for me, some are thriving. Not every sufferer will be comforted. Not every sufferer will believe that his lot can improve. But some will. Some will feel the load get a little lighter because of a cute baby in a sweet dress and a happy mother.
When it comes to art the case is even stronger. Creating art for our own pleasure benefits everyone else. The major writers, artists, musicians create out of an urgency that has nothing to do with the greater good. I very much doubt that Monet, for example, painted his water lilies for the benefit of sixth graders on a class trip to an art museum. But some of those eyes are opened, and some of those children live expanded lives forever after.
When I write - when most of the writers I know write - it’s to tell myself a story or to tell a story to the child I used to be. If I tried for an altruistic purpose, to please my readers, I’d be lost. The idea is too vague. One reader likes one thing, another likes something else. So I write selfishly to please myself, and the story goes out into the world and turns out, sometimes, to be just what a reader needs.
Naturally, we have to finish our stories for that to happen, and we have to show them to at least one other person, because keeping them entirely to ourselves may be a little selfish in the bad way, because no one else is allowed to benefit from the tale we discovered.
Finishing is going to benefit someone besides you. If nothing else, the glow of accomplishment will spread cheer.
If your story is published, a wider audience will be enriched. If it isn’t, your friends and family, your teacher, your writers’ group will be the lucky ones. They’ll learn something about you. They’ll read a story the rest of the world won’t have access to, which will make it precious.
On to perfectionism, which takes me back to my childhood, too, and to my poor mother, who was criticized mercilessly by her mother and her two sisters. She became the universe’s biggest perfectionist, trying to do everything exactly right and escape judgment.
So maybe that’s the root of a lot of perfectionism, because criticism hurts!
I caught it from her. If someone comes to my house I want it to look great. Two fragments of tile are missing in my bathroom, and they bother me. When I go out, I fuss with my looks, even if I’m going to be with people who’ve known me for eons. When I’m with a group I want my every word to be clever. This is a burden, and I should get over it.
But when I write I’m not burdened, or not so much. I know the impossibility of perfection, which is what I say in Writing Magic, that there’s no such thing as a perfect book. The best I can hope for is the best I can do at this time. Maybe in a year I’ll do better.
I admit that when I’ve finished writing a scene I go back and fiddle with it before moving on, especially if it’s a good scene and I like it. It’s fun to tweak it to make it funnier or more exciting. And it’s much easier than to move forward into the next scene, which may be hard to write, which may drive me crazy with its imperfections and may even make me temporarily blocked.
Some of you aren’t like me. Some of you blaze bravely on and save the tweaking for the second draft. Good for you!
Even I move on eventually, though. Because I’m darned if the book is going to peter out. It will limp or gallop to the end so that I can start revising and start making it the best imperfect story I can.
Here are a few prompts:
• When I think of Monet, I often think of one of my favorite poems, “Monet Refuses the Operation” by Lisel Mueller. This prompt is just to read the poem and enjoy. Here’s a link: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/236810. If you read it, please let me know what you think.
• The first time I made a beef-and-barley soup, I decided to go to the movies while the soup simmered. I came back to fire trucks, an apartment full of smoke, and only ashes where soup should have been. My second attempt was delicious, but my husband’s spoon made an odd, clinking sound in the bowl, and he fished out my key chain and all my keys, dripping but sterile. Use a cooking disaster of yours - or any non-cooking mishap - or borrow mine to write a story or a scene on the theme of perfectionism. If perfectionism turns out not to be the theme, don’t worry. We’re really after story.
• Develop two characters, one selfish in a way that benefits many others, and one selfish in a way that benefits no one. Put them in opposition to each other. Write what happens in a scene or a story.
Have fun, and save what you write!