I used to be a perfectionist.
I dabbled in child modeling when I was young--a fairly disastrous foray; I was not well-suited for the job--too self-conscious, too shy. I was excited, however, when I was offered a gig at a trade show demonstrating System 80 computers. We had a couple of System 80s in my 2nd grade classroom, and I loved feeding the hulking machines little colorful punch cards and playing the simple spelling and math games. I figured all I had to do for this gig was sit at a desk on a raised platform and lose myself in the various blips and beeps of the screen.
The trade show goers had other ideas, however. One man in a business suit asked me what happened if I pushed the wrong button. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Even when asked nicely, I just couldn’t let myself give an incorrect answer. I started crying so hard, my mom had to lower me from the platform and carry me to the car, leaving the System 80 unmanned (unchilded?) the rest of the day.
Thankfully, the years have helped me let go of this need to get everything right. Perfectionism does not serve a writer well. It is antithetical to the creative process, which is by nature messy and chaotic, full of juice that spurts in unexpected directions. Still, sometimes I find that critical part of me rearing its ugly head, telling me that my work will never be good enough or interesting enough or, let’s face it, perfect enough to pass muster with the tongue-clucking gatekeeper inside my brain.
This is why NaNoWriMo is such a gift to writers, especially those of us with perfectionist tendencies. When you write in such a fast and furious way, that gatekeeper simply can’t keep up. With so many words charging through, she has to throw the gate open and step aside.
I am starting the day with 33,542 words under my NaNo belt. I know these are imperfect words. I know they are full of cliches, and unnecessary phrases and strange digressions that derail the forward motion of the story. I know some of my characters are two dimensional, that some of their actions are not quite believable yet. But I’m so glad I’ve written these words. I’m giving myself lots of raw material to work with, a rough draft that I can later shape and hone into the book I envision (or at least an approximation thereof--books are never exactly what we envision, are they? That’s probably a good thing--I find that the writing itself has a much better idea of what it wants to be than I do). Some of my sentences may make me cringe, but I try to take a deep breath and keep moving forward, knowing I can always change the text later. As I tell my students, it’s much easier to craft something beautiful out of a pile of garbage than it is to build something amazing out of thin air. And while the final novel may never be as perfect as I want it to be--and I admit, I still revise my published books when I read from them!--I’ll try my hardest to make it a whole, living, breathing creature unto itself.
I recently saw a t-shirt in a catalog that said, beneath a drawing of a typewriter, “Don’t get it right, get it written.” This could easily be the catch phrase for NaNoWriMo. Right now, imperfection is what is right--how freeing is that?! I wish you swift fingers and quiet critical minds as you get your gloriously imperfect novels written. Please let me know how it’s going!