Before I even begin this post, I should tell you I am a recovering perfectionist. There's guilt in perfectionism. Your sense of worth is stored in whether you got it perfect or not. You always doubt other people's compliments. It's absolutely nutty, and you know it's nutty, but you just. can't. help it.
After a while I made a compromise with myself. I hoped I could learn to achieve the quality that perfectionism often brings, without the feelings of guilt for "failing" so often. I needed to learn perspective.
Keep this in mind when I tell you the following story from two weeks ago.
It's the end of my first semester at my new school, codename: College By the Sea, which means all the final projects are rolling in and being peer reviewed. I should explain this has been a strange semester for me. To quote Knotting Hill, "It was nice. Surreal, but nice." I have been extremely creative. People have been recognizing my creativity. In fact, they seem to think I know more than I actually do. Quite out of the niceness of their hearts, they've been getting me into situations I'm not sure I can handle--moments where I feel like I've run off the cliff and I'm trying to backpedal, wailing, "Wait! I'm really not sure I have the experience for this!"
I've been very insecure. Almost as if the more people compliment me and assure me I'm good, the less I believe them.
So you can imagine how I felt--all nervous and susceptible--when I chose to turn my Intro to Audio assignment into a book reading of MIRRORPASS. I almost didn't decide to do it. I waffled for days. And then, when I went ahead and did it, creating an audio production around the 10-minute reading--it was torture. The scene I had chosen was horrible. (The whole book felt horrible.) It needed severe editing. (Maybe I should just scrap the book?) It was too dramatic, had too many references, it was just--ugh!
But I slogged through the assignment and submitted it, hoping beyond hope that was the end of it.
It wasn't the end.
Our teacher wanted to play some of the assignments during class, before all our peers. For days I tortured myself. He won't play mine, I decided. I would love to know what my classmates think. But, shudder! I would die if they heard.
And in the middle of this, I was a little baffled at my lack of self control, my complete plunge into insecurity. Where was my perspective? Why couldn't I handle this like a professional? Someday, people were going to read this. (At least I hoped.) I needed to get used to the idea.
I raised my chin and went on with life.
Until class this morning. When my teacher pulled my CD out of the box and popped it into the computer, asking me to introduce it for the class.
Let's stop here.
Remember when I talked about my compromise, my efforts to control my perfectionism? I developed some funny habits as a result of that compromise. I don't like to show people my work until it's finished--all edited and polished and shiny--and if I have to show them my work before it's ready, I like to give caveats. I give caveats like crazy. This isn't finished, I say. It has mistakes here and here and here, and I'm working on that. But now that you know about those mistakes, if you could just ignore them, I would love to know what you think of the story itself.
And I feel much better. Because by doing this, I have protected myself from the two most common reactions people have, both of which shatter my perspective and suck me back into the HIGH! low HIGH! low drama of perfectionism.
You see, first, I have successfully skirted around the issue wherein loyal friends and family start saying bogus things like, "It's amazing! You should be published! I loved it! Because it was perfect!" And you want to believe them, but there's a tiny suspicious part of yourself wonders why they didn't find something wrong. They are missing their grains of salt, and you cannot quite get your hopes up by believing them.
But with my caveats, ah! I have salted their feedback beforehand.
Secondly, I have protected myself from liabilities. Now they know I am a professional. I am not blind; I can clearly see some mistakes exists. In fact, look, I am already in the process of fixing them! How businesslike of me. Take notice, world, this writer is not suffering from any dreamlike delusions of publication. Other writers you have met may be frauds, but her dreams have credibility.
Because the world simply doesn't take much stock in writers who are unpublished. Tahereh Mafi just wrote a great post about this. It got me thinking about my little protective system. I am always prepared for, even expecting, the worst. I can easily handle criticism.
But praise is scary.
Praise means I might be making progress. When it comes to praise, I am most vulnerable, for there--in my little heart of hearts--I might start to believe that when people say I'm good, I'm actually good. That I'm Ready For More.
If they said that, and if I believed it, and if it turned out not to be true after all, well, it would be impossible to continue plodding along patiently as I had been before.
The hardest part of this all, you see, is patience. Learning how to keep the dream before achieving the dream. Learning how to protect it even from my own impatience.
I'll tell you the rest of the story in part 2 (next Wednesday), but for now, let me ask this: How do you guys protect the dream? Everyone in this long enough has to find a way to deal with the idea of "getting better" before "getting published." So how do all of you do it? Does community help? Or do you simply never intend to pace yourself, but anticipate that each new novel will be "the one" that makes it? I doubt any one answer will fix me, but I'd love if you all shared.
Truly and always,