Permission to proceed imperfectly

I think I’ve lived a pretty charmed life. Most pursuits in life came easily to me—not the lottery or boys, unfortunately—but things like doing well in school and getting into university, or starting my career and making new friends.

My first piece of writing after a decades-long hiatus was published in a national newspaper without much fuss, so I assumed all my writing projects would be like that. Easy-peasy.

It never occurred to me that there might be things that I’d actually not be stupendous at right out of the gate.

I’m not good at letting myself be bad at anything. God forbid I fail at Ultimate Frisbee. Or backgammon. Or that cute Ponycorns game. I’d be terrible at something like golf, a sport most people spend their lives trying to do better at. I’d want to be the best right away. I hate that I’m not perfect at everything I undertake. And that means it’s hard to even get started.

I’ll read a novel—something like Tom Robbins’s Jitterbug Perfume (which, if you haven’t read, will completely change your life when you do)—and think, if I can’t write like that, if I can’t blow people’s socks off with my writing, why even try? So my current writing project is coming along very slowly.

Fellow Restless Writer Lori Dyan thinks it’s hilarious that I sometimes compose my tweets in Word before transcribing them to Twitter because I don’t want to make any mistakes. Her advice to me was to “tweet dangerously.” (She might have followed it up with you silly bitch, but she meant it with love.)

I know that if I ever want to let the characters in my head see the light of day, I need to retrain myself. To start, I need to give myself permission to “tweet dangerously,” so to speak. To proceed imperfectly. I have to learn to let go of my big, tender ego. Just toss it in my sock drawer or some other dark corner, and write with abandon.

As Anne Lamott urges in Bird by Bird, I have to let myself write a shitty first draft. “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts” (Anchor Books, 1994). I can burn it afterwards if I want. But only by writing that shitty first draft will I ever go on to write that improved second draft, that impressive third draft, and that astonishing final draft.

They say that walking is a controlled unbalancing. I suppose writing is the same thing. Every time I approach the blank page, I’m like a toddler taking those first hesitant and reckless steps. Wobble, topple, fall over, stand up, get my balance, and keep moving forward.

Here’s my lesson to myself: Proceed imperfectly. Walk with controlled unbalancing. Write without caution. And maybe, with practice and perseverance, I might just blow someone’s socks off.

Maria

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Permission to proceed imperfectly

  1. yey! it’s so nice to know i’m not alone…..i too had a long writing hiatus because of those same types of worries. i am now writing a novel online, which means i write a chapter, edit it once or twice, and then post it for the whole world to read. i write a new one each week, so there is not much time for second-guessing, and there is no going back once its up there. it’s terrifying but it’s really training me to write dangerously!

    good luck! the world awaits your dangerous tweets and the subsequent novels!

  2. Trish Loye Elliott

    Great post, Maria. I too am a perfectionist. I spend way too much time thinking about my tweets and my comments. I waste valuable writing time doing that and then I berate myself for wasting time…. argh. I also want to be the best at everything I do. I understand your dilemma. I too have decided golf isn’t for me. (Especially since the last time I played I chucked a club into the woods.) I’m not only a perfectionist but way too competitive. I’m working on it. I think my motto from now on will be ‘Tweet Dangerously!’
    Love that line.

    • Thanks Trish. I’m happy that writing is something (I hope) I will always have the desire and motivation to do, despite it being a daily challenge. Unlike golf, which I have no interest in whatsoever. I’d love to kick butt at backgammon though!

  3. I enjoyed the tone of this blog. I like to do well too but it takes alot of courage, mucking about, determination and creativity. ( I will look for Jitterbug Perfume.)

  4. I like your comment about “mucking about.” Sometimes my writing feels like tires spinning in the mud, or an engine warming up–just noise with no forward momentum. But I need to go through that stage to actually end up writing something I’m proud of. Kind of like stretching before a workout.

  5. And you even properly cited Bird by Bird!

    I’m a bit of a perfectionist (yes, this may be like being an uncommitted suicide bomber), but I’ve learned to live at the edge. To let my fingers dance and press publish quickly. It’s okay. And kind of fun. Even if I do throw up the odd homonym air. I mean error. 😉

  6. Yay, Maria! What a great post. I look forward to reading some of your twitter typos. 😉

  7. Elena Aitken

    Maria,
    Great post! I live in a constant state of fear that “I’m not good enough”.
    But I’m working on it. Because really, who decides that?
    I love the line ‘Tweet Dangerously’ and Lori’s right….live on the edge. Give your self a chance to be imperfect. Because I’m willing to bet that your ‘imperfect’ is pretty damn awesome!

  8. Oddly enough, I know EXACTLY what you mean. I’m the kind to be good at things without too much effort, and I like getting good quickly. In my writing, I have a tendency to edit one scene to perfection before burning out on the whole project. I even wrote a blog post on this very subject!

    Guess we all have some learning to do!

  9. bjas

    Oh Maria! What a perfectly perfect post about imperfection. Love it 🙂

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