I'm the type of person who could get 99% in an exam and say 'why didn't I get 100%?' Regular readers of this blog know this already: I think I've mentioned, about seventy-two times, how I regard anything less than the top grade as failure. Or used to. Nowadays, I'm striving to be less of a perfectionist.
I've also 'talked' openly about my struggles with mental illness (recap: I have Borderline Personality Disorder with depression and anxiety) and perfection feeds into - and feeds upon - this struggle. In simple terms, trying to be perfect aggravates my anxiety and my inevitable failure to be perfect exacerbates my depression. I've always tried to kid myself that perfectionism has its benefits. I would claim that I wouldn't have achieved good results if I hadn't been aiming for excellent results; that perfectionism was a motivator and I'd otherwise sit on my arse watching TV all day... Total BS.
The truth I had been ignoring all along is perfectionism gets you nowhere. I haven't achieved stuff because of my perfectionism - I've achieved them in spite of perfectionism.
Perfectionism paralyzes you. It causes you to stare at a blank computer screen because you're terrified what you write won't be perfect. And the most ridiculous part of all this? You know it won't be perfect.
I'm not aware of any story or novel that everyone in the world agrees is perfect. I know plenty that I think are pretty much perfect. I know a few that many people say are close to perfect. Perfection doesn't exist.
Even if I had gotten top marks all through my educational adventures, it wouldn't mean my work was perfect. It would mean my work had merited the maximum marks available: nothing more. Even if I manage, one day, to write a story critics hail as perfect and that wins me many prizes and admirers (dream on!), it doesn't mean the story would be perfect.
So I'm trying to give up perfectionism. Instead, I'm aiming for gradual improvement.
This struck me when I was on the treadmill today. I'm very unfit and obese. I can't go very far or fast on the treadmill, so I just aim to go farther each time. Even 0.1 mile farther. 0.2 on a good day. It's been a couple of weeks since I resumed walking/jogging on the treadmill (my MA got in the way, so I hadn't been on it for the best part of a year) and today I went nearly a mile farther than the first time I got back on it. I hope to be able to walk/jog 4 miles by the end of 2012.
It would be ridiculous to tell myself 'I'm going to do 10 miles today' before I get on the treadmill. Yet I've been doing the equivalent of this in other areas of my life - especially learning and writing. And, indeed, learning to write.
I'm not going to write brilliant prose anytime soon - and certainly not in a first draft - but that's fine. My aim is to get a little better each time I write something. Who knows, maybe one day I'll achieve the literary equivalent of a sub-three hour marathon!