I was chatting with Chris last week about my novel issues. Yes, with my thesis looming over my head I’m having, of all things, novel issues. I am not a fire and forget kind of writer. I’m an agonize over every word even when I know I’ll probably burn the draft in a fiery pit of doom kind of writer. Perfectionists are an odd sort, and the longer I hang around the writer corner of the internet, the clearer it is to me that the writing world is full of them. *Waves at all fellow perfectionists*
The sarcastic muse has struck me this week, so below I’ve amassed a list of some perfectionist problems. At least the ones that are familiar to me.
Disclaimer: I can’t speak for all perfectionists. Also, some points may dually apply to self-proclaimed non-perfectionists, too. (Imperfectionists?)
You may be a perfectionist if . . .
1.) You get stuck on one word. Usually the first word you choose will be the word you ultimately go with as that’s the one intuition will have chosen, but before you can relax and move on, you may do the following: Take the word out. Put it back five minutes later. Change it to a different word. Decide it sounds wrong and put the old one back. Wash, rinse, repeat.
2.) You follow in the footsteps of Oscar Wilde: put the comma in your draft in the morning, then take it out in the evening. You will do this fifteen times and will probably still go with your original choice.
3.) You are so afraid of writing the wrong words that you refuse to write any at all. In the meantime, you manage to clean the entire house until it sparkles, get a degree in physics, and learn twenty-two languages.
4.) You’ve read your current draft so many times that you can recite it from memory (even if it’s only the first chapter).
5.) In fact, you are ultimately much better at reading your draft than you are at writing it.
6.) You could give up any key on the keyboard except the “backspace” button.
7.) And your daily word counts tend to go into the negative. As in . . . you like to think of it as writing words off the page. That’s still writing, right?
8.) You’ll only let someone read your work after having stressed that it is “only a first draft” and that you fully intend to use it as firewood.
9.) And you’re sure to apologize profusely for having forced them to read something that’s not even fit for maggot consumption (even though they have been begging to read your work for close to six months now).
10.) You reread even your blog posts over twenty-four times before posting. And then at least twenty-four more times after posting. That’s why people only hear from you once a month.
11.) You manage to be on top of all the problems in your draft but can never meet a deadline for it.
12.) You look everywhere for the red ink on your paper. Red ink is your friend. Red ink makes you feel alive as it drips across the blank white of the page. Red ink . . . oh, I’m sorry. Amanda must have let the monsters out of the lab again. I digress . . .
13.) However, when someone says that your work doesn’t have to be perfect or that there is no such thing as perfection, you feel a strong inclination to start marking them with red ink.
With a pen, of course . . . which red ink were you thinking about?
14.) You’re not moving forward until you fix the thing in the draft that’s bothering you. “Hey, writer,” a well-meaning friend says. “The world is ending. We should head for the escape pods now.” “Of course, the world is ending,” you say. “This dash doesn’t fit between these two words, but I’m not sure where else to put it.”
15.) You found yourself nodding at the points on this list. Or grinning. When the world is ending, you think, it’ll be us perfectionists who write order into the chaos . . . perfectly.