Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Perfectionism: A double edged sword

I know I have perfectionistic tendencies, and I've fought with them before, but mostly I thought I'd overcome them. Then I started reading the Flylady essays, and she mentions perfectionism and its ugly head quite often. Perfectionism is why we start decluttering the closet for fifteen minutes and then can't stop. Why we wait so long for things to get dirty, because we need the satisfaction we get from the big contrast our efforts make -- nasty transformed to nice.

And I'll admit, I have had a lot of trouble stopping after my timer goes off. Yesterday I went through some stuff, the timer went off and it took me more than double that time just to get all the stuff thrown away, bagged up, etc. I should have just stopped and done all that throwing and bagging the next day but I didn't. I felt compelled to get it gone because it felt so good.

It just didn't feel so good later when I'd used up much of my time for writing. Using up much of my time for writing has been happening a lot. I've not been overly concerned most of the time, but I have noticed it. I have noticed that I'd rather clean or dejunk the closet than get down to business. Or research. Or make birthday cards. Or, lately, get organized. For awhile I told myself it was nothing. But more and more I've been thinking it was something I should address.

Today I did it again. Used up my time on this and that (all worthwhile pursuits) and then sat down about an hour before lunchtime. I finished up chapter 9 and then was faced with 10 and a bunch of questions I had no answers to and ... kept thinking of other things to do. Finally I stopped and went to the Lord because I was pretty sure I was sinning, but I wasn't sure how.

He showed me right away: fear I wouldn't write a good enough book, self-condemnation because I wasn't getting anything down, implacability toward every idea that I came up with. They were all bad. They were all mundane. They weren't special and I needed special.

This immediately reminded me of a testimony that just came through the Flylady email loop where the woman couldn't seem to get down to the business of establishing her daily routines because she was spending all her time researching on the net, trying to find a better/the best calendar to keep track of her activities. Finally realizing that was wasted effort she stopped... only to get sidetracked again trying to find a better/the best feather duster...

Instead of calendars and feather dusters, I was trying to come up with a better/best event, string of events, etc, for my plotline! Well, yes, I know I already have a plotline. One that the Lord gave me when I was writing the proposal. One my agent actually got excited about and Bethany House contracted me for. But it was no good. I needed something better. Was this not... perfectionism rearing its "ugly head" yet again?

It was. I googled perfectionism then, and found a couple of sites, which I read. Right on. One of them was at the University of Texas site here. I especially liked what this article said regarding the myths about perfectionism. Like "I wouldn't be the success I am today if I weren't such a perfectionist." Actually "there is no evidence that perfectionists are more successful than their non-perfectionistic counterparts," whereas "there IS evidence that given similar levels of talent, skill or intellect, perfectionists perform less successfully than non-perfectionists."

Whoa. And that leads right into the realization that perfectionism is all screwed up from the get-go because it's the striving to do something perfect, in hopes it'll be accepted/approved by people, thus earning success from one's own efforts and shoving God right out of the picture.

God's called me to write this book and promised that He will provide me with everything I need to do it. So... why not just take Him at His word, stop searching for the perfect sequence and just sit down and do the best I can in the time I have? In fact, give myself a specific time period to come up with a solid outline, with chapters and scenes and linkages and all that. Not a perfect outline, not a thrilling outline, not a spectacular outline, not even an outline I think is splendid. Just an outline. Okay, a coherent outline. Or, maybe not even that.

So that's what I think I'm going to do tomorrow.