As I flip through TV channels, I zip past image after image of perfect people. An actress with smooth, sleek hair wearing a size zero dress. An actor with brilliant white teeth and perfect biceps. Even the cat on the cat food commercial is a perfect ball of fluff.
We’re bombarded with these images. Brief seconds of what advertisers and producers want us to believe is the perfect life. All in order to buy a product or get you to watch their movie. It’s easy to fall for their trap with the emotional appeal. Who wouldn’t want to look perfect?
But there’s really more going on behind the scenes. We don’t see the hours of stylists preparing the actor’s makeup, or the hours of dieting and working out the actress puts herself through. Not to mention the special effects people who work their magic on a daily basis. They are all people with real lives. We don’t know if they’re having relationship problems or dealing with a recent loss of a loved one. We don’t see the hundreds of auditions they were rejected by.
When real people are involved, it’s going to get messy. Because we’re not perfect.
The Silent Enemy
Perfectionism is a silent enemy that plagues us in the things we try to do. It fights us in the relationships we try to form. It whispers lies that we’ll never be good enough. As we strive to find the ideal image, we often let go of the things we should be trying to attain.
The more we try to grasp on to perfection, the more we lose of the life we have.
When I first started writing, I thought I would sit down, stare at the beginning of my novel and write until I came to the end. The words would flow effortlessly, weaving into that perfect story, like my favorite novels.
But that did not happen.
I’d sit in my chair, stare at the paper. Sometimes, I wrote a hundred terrible words that didn’t make sense. Other times, white space stared back at me. I wanted to quit. There was no way I could be a writer. I didn’t have the special gift published authors have. The words didn’t appear like magic across the page. My quest for the perfect word took hours of my writing day.
I believed this lie that writing can’t be taught – you either have it or you don’t. Something in my heart wouldn’t let me give up. I wanted to be a writer more than anything, but something had to change.
After I began reading books on writing, my eyes were opened to new possibilities. I realized that you can learn to write, but the process is different than what I had been taught. I had to be willing to let go of the perfect story, the perfect words and the perfect grammar in order to write it.
That’s when I began to grow.
I tried writing a scene in my novel – and it was awful. But I began to see why, and to see ways to improve it, even make it come to life. I read more books, did more of the recommended exercises. My characters turned into “real” people rather than flat caricatures that talked on paper.
The more I let go of what I thought had to be perfect, the more I grew, and the better my writing became.
So, why don’t we give ourselves permission to not be perfect? I know. It’s a radical idea. You may be closer to that breakthrough in your writing than you think.
Try letting go of those super high goals you’ve set. You know the ones I mean. The ones that say if my novel isn’t published by summer, I’m going to quit. Or I must have an agent for my book by next week. Try instead to give yourself goals that will grow you toward your dream.
What can I do this month that will help my writing improve? Maybe it’s reading another book or taking an online writing course. Who knows? Maybe that will be just the thing your writing needs. And maybe, you can find freedom in that.
Rachelle Harp is editor-in-chief and co-founder of The Intentional Novelist, as well as an avid coffee drinker. Her speculative fiction has appeared in Havok Magazine and her non-fiction in Chicken Soup for the Soul. She’s got upcoming stories at Galaxy’s Edge Magazine and StarShipSofa. She’s a finalist in the L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest, a Zebulon Contest Novel winner, and a Novel Rocket Launch Pad Novel Contest grand prize winner. Read more at rachelleharp.com or follow her on Twitter.