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Paralyzed by Perfection

"We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the eclat of a proverb."

- Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

This line illustrates, in a nice proverb-like shell, why I've found it so difficult to write my WIP-B lately. I make small advances here and there, and as you can see on my progress bar I've managed to claw my way to 41% completion (based on content in my outline, not the number of words, which are very few). But if you sum up all of the hours I spent to eek out those few percentage points, you'd probably come up with a figure that equals the same amount of time and energy I would spend on a short story twice as long, or an entire chapter of a different work.

Why? Because I'm writing something "important." Everything I say has to be gilded with genius and significance. If I can't express myself perfectly the first time around, I end up writing nothing, and instead diddle around listening to music or baking cakes until the words magically come to me.

Some people might call this "writers' block." I call it "procrastination." My standards are so high that I believe I cannot meet them, so I shirk my work and hope that when I reopen the document again, the novel will have bloomed into being by itself.

This is not only self-sabotage; it's completely useless. Even though I'm hung up on quality, the bits that I do produce are not noticeably better than the scenes and stories I barrel through, and a few rounds of edits evens it all out anyway. I am certain that if I just wrote the darned thing, I would find that it was not as horribly inadequate as I thought at the time.

When William Stafford was asked how he managed to write a poem every day for a year, he famously replied, "I lowered my standards." I don't write poetry, and to be honest I've never read any of Stafford's, but I think I should follow his example in this case. Starting today, I resolve to strive for mediocre. I will not stand on the ground forever, working up my courage to shoot for the stars to land in the trees, but will content myself with the lowest branch. Maybe then I can scramble up one at a time until I reach the peak.


Anonymous (March 25, 2012, 6:46 pm)

perhaps writing yields to different approaches, the way Bacon believes we should read various books variously.

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What is the first letter of "Kentucky"?