Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday's Writing Tip: Thoughts from Anne Lamott on Avoiding Perfectionism

Anne Lamott

"Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life...I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it." Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life



"It doesn't have to be perfect..."
All non-perfectionists can now breathe a sigh of relief! Don't you love Ms. Lamott's wise words on avoiding it? 

In her wonderful book on writing she shows us that perfectionism is detrimental, because when striving for it in our manuscripts, we try not to leave too much of a mess to clean up.  But she points out that the clutter we leave behind can hide precious treasures that we'll discover later. And those treasures can be put to good use by providing more material to work with once we go back to revise and edit.

Being too tidy, according to Ms. Lamott, suggests that something is as good as it's going to get. In a previous post here, not looking back when writing a manuscript was discussed. 

The important thing is to finish.  Plow ahead, make a mess! Don't worry about every little detail or whether or not it's polished enough.  That comes later, at revision time.

Have fun with that first draft; avoiding perfectionism allows a really great story to unfold!  Do you struggle with perfectionism? Thanks for visiting and have a great day!

20 comments:

Old Kitty said...

Lovely words of advice!! Thank you!!! I think that's why I love first drafts - it's pure creative adrenalin!! It's such a sublime feeling. It's only afterwards when the reality hits that the joy becomes very hard work! So I guess I'd say I don't struggle with perfectionism cos I am most aware of my many profound limitations - but I think I suffer more from being very lazy to work at correcting these limitations!!! Oh dear! Take care
x

Jennifer Hoffine said...

I'm one of the non-perfectionists who takes comfort in her words...Writing straight through the rough isn't for everyone (I still edit some along the way), but the spirit of her advice is still important to me. I can't be afraid of writing five pages to get one page that works...you'll never get anywhere if you're too afraid to write crap most of the time:)

Carol Riggs said...

Good post, very interesting! When I write, I have to keep reminding myself I can fix something later, so I can be/feel fluid enough to write the rough draft! :)

Nas Dean said...

Great tips. But it's something I find hard to do I keep going back to edit....but her tips regarding clutter which we can get to later for treasures is really spot on!

Maria McKenzie said...

@Old Kitty: Glad you liked Anne's advice! And you are so right about 1st drafts being pure creative adrenaline. Editing is the hard part, and it's a lot less fun:(.

@Jennifer: Wise words from you! "You'll never get anywhere if you're too afraid to write crap most of the time."

@Carol: Moving ahead is the only way to finish:)!

@Nas: I love her tips regarding clutter, too! I've cut out a lot of stuff from a 1st draft that I later use as backstory.

Hanny said...

Great post. I loved 'Bird by Bird.'

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, Hanny! Thanks for stopping by:). Anne Lamott's insight is great!

Lydia K said...

Boy do these words come as relief. Your commenters owe you some $$ for this therapy session!

Maria McKenzie said...

I must give all credit to Anne:)!

The Desert Rocks said...

Excellent! Maybe I should say...Perfect!

Gale Martin said...

I hear that. I have several books to finish, and need to get on it. Thank you!

KatieO said...

I love Bird by Bird and Anne's practical advice... I tend to self-edit my way through my manuscripts way tooooo much, slowing down teh whole process...
Thanks for posting this timely reminder ;-)

Maria McKenzie said...

@Desert Rocks: Glad you enjoyed Anne's "perfect" insight:)!

@Gale: You're welcome! Get those books finished and make a mess along the way;).

@You're welcome! I'm tempted to edit along the way, too. I have to remind myself to keep on, keeping on:).

Colene Murphy said...

Very true and awesome! Take's a lot of pressure off too!

Talli Roland said...

Lamott's book was a real lightbulb moment for me. I love first drafts because I can write crap!

Maria McKenzie said...

@Colene: Amen!

@Talli: Here, here!

The Words Crafter said...

Great advice! It's what I loved so very much about NaNoWriMo last year. However, now...I'm having a difficult time turning off that inner editor. I need to let myself be free in writing again.

Thanks for the reminder :)

Maria McKenzie said...

@Words Crafter: You're welcome! Now buy your inner editor a pair of shoes so she'll leave you alone to be free:).

J.L. Campbell said...

Hi, Maria,

I'm one of those perfectionist who has to have things just so before moving on. Moving away from that way of writing is going to be challenging. Good advice from Ms. Lamott

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, J.L.! I know this is hard for a perfectionist, but you can do it;). Good luck!