Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Protecting the dream, part 1: The Caveat

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.

Oh. Crap.

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,
-Creative A


Sherrie Petersen said...

Insecurity is a constant battle for me, at least when it comes to my skills as a creative writer. For some reason I believe in myself when it comes to pr and marketing, I trust myself as a graphic designer, but children's author? Not at all. In part, I know the rejections have beaten me into doubting myself. But even successful authors I know still battle with doubt. Maybe it's part of being a writer?

That probably didn't help, but those are my thoughts on the subject. At least for today.

Creative A said...

No, I think you're right! There's no one voice of validation that seems to make the doubt go completely away; probably because it's validation sought from the wrong source. But I know what you mean...I trust myself more in areas I can control (my web design) than in my writing (because then it's not "good" until it's "published.")

Thanks for your thoughts! Really, the whole point for me is to hear what others think, which is exactly what you provided. :)


Anonymous Me said...

Hi again. :)
I'm a middle-schooler (hahaha, weird word), and maybe I missed the whole point of your post, but strangely, I rarely feel insecure about my work. Maybe it's because I'm overconfident, maybe it's because my English teacher says that "If you don't like what you're writing, then don't write it." Usually, if I feel even a tiny bit dissatisfied with an idea, I discard it from the beginning because it's easier to start fresh.
And yeah, friends are infamous for giving false comments. I'll confess that I do it myself. When someone says "Do you like it?" or "Ugh, this looks horrible", I find myself scrambling to say "That looks great" even if it's the worst thing I've ever seen. Call it friendship. :D
I've never had anyone be brutally honest with me. I respect Simon Cowell (that's his name, right?) for delivering the truths that no one wants to say or hear. It's also so much more helpful when someone says something like, "It'll look better if you..."
Long comment, eh? :)

Creative A said...

Hey AM! I wonder if you could just call yourself MG for middle grade? ;)

Neat advice. I think the hard part for me, now that I'm at the stage where I'm trying to get published, is "Will others like what I like?" Because of course I enjoy it to some extent--otherwise, yeah, I wouldn't have written it. But I may not necessarily have written it in such a way that others can enjoy.


Claire L. Fishback said...

I, too, use the caveats to protect my dream. "here, you can read the first scene of my book (because I'm desperate for validation even if it sucks) BUT, it is a very very VERY first draft. Very rough."

I use that every time.

I don't know that we, as writers, will ever get past that. I know a best selling author who is still that way. We are our own worst critics. Very worst.

One thing that helps me is to surround myself with people who support my dream and want me to succeed.

A critique group helps, too. And though they all won't LOVE IT TO DEATH, they will give you honest feedback that you can leave or take. They aren't telling you what they are saying is right. Shoot, two people might have conflicting opinions, then what? You do whatever feels RIGHT to you for YOUR baby, your dream.

I'm babbling here, I know, but I hope at least a little bit of that helped!

Claire L. Fishback

Creative A said...

Hey Claire!

"I don't know that we, as writers, will ever get past that."

Yeah, have to agree with this. (Heavy sigh.) But crit group is a good idea. I haven't had one of those anyway, LAST time I had one, I know it helped. I think lack of feedback is generally what gets me into my worst insecure states--I simply don't know what other people think, good or bad. Having opinions helps give me a sense of where I am.

Very best!

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