Cunning. Relentless. Deadly. You know them. Just when you settle down to do your creative work, they come dancing out with all the cheer of a Dixie-land dirge. "You should plastic the windows of this gigantic Victorian house you thought was a good idea to rent when the weather was warm." Or maybe, "You should go to work early and get that report done on time for a change, so your colleague doesn't have to hunt you down like the dog you are." Or the classic, "You know, you really should clean the lint out of your belly button. What kind of a person ARE you?" Yesterday, I fought back. Before leaving for work, I went into my art studio and made a prayer flag. I know that playing with little scraps of fabric might seem childish to some. But I have always found working with my hands, and color and shape and design, to be a tonic. When I create relationships between motifs, I create relationships in my mind. I get neurologically organized, as opposed to neurotically organized. It's a delight. And the Shoulds hate delight. They fear joy, and they run screaming with their hair on fire once they get a good look at the face of creativity. So go ahead. Make their day. You're a grownup now. Don't be afraid of a little thing like play.
This morning before work, I spent time on my novel. It was only for an hour, and I was only reading over my latest version. No, it wasn't an attack of virtue; I actually wanted to do it. And I felt so incredibly good afterward I couldn't believe I had put it off for so long. All that time and energy wasted on resistance! Why, I asked myself? And myself rambled on and on with a litany of excuses: competing creative projects, fatigue and overstimulation, what's-the-point-I'll-never-get-it published -- the usual monologue.
But the real reason, in the words of my wise, wise sister, is that "the perfect is the enemy of the good." Bear in mind that this truism comes from a woman who is both an accomplished fine artist as well as a musician, and who also regularly uses excellent words like "bailiwick" and "schaudenfraude." So listen up.
A few months ago I gave a copy of my manuscript to a trusted friend for feedback. And the feedback she gave me was helpful, honest, and constructive. She showed me where the "seams" showed, what rang true and what didn't. I was grateful. And stymied about how to proceed.
Perhaps I had to let the criticism percolate for awhile. Perhaps I needed the down time away from the writing, so I could release my attachment to some of the sections -- which had doubtless taken on, as writer Annie Dillard calls it, the "ring of inevitability" from being re-read so many times. I first started this book in 1998, so some of it's been read a bazillion-gazillion times. I'm no mathematician, but that's a lot of times.
Over and over again, I have to learn that engagement with the process over time is what matters. Over and over again, I have to learn that some writing is going to be dreadful the first time around, and that a finished book that is less than perfect is better than no book at all. I teach my sixth grade writing students about this all the time: perfectionism is the enemy, at least when you're generating new creative material. But that's the thing about the creative process: you get to learn about it a whole buncha times. It's the gift that keeps on giving.
Perhaps I should finally make what I've been thinking about making for years: a thinking cap, but one for creative thinking only. It should have purple on it, and pom-poms, and some kind of sproingy things that wiggle around a lot and remind me that when I'm working on The Book, I'm really only playing on paper. It should be ridiculous and aerodynamic and totally in my bailiwick. It should be...perfect.
Liz Heichelbech, M.Ed., is a creative educator, consultant, and coach. A published author and former professional dancer and actor, she has taught writing, public speaking, and comedy improv. She was also the director of Women's Improv Group (WIG Out Boston).
Welcome to Blog-zilla-ville,
where talk meets walk.
I don't just teach, coach, and consult on all things creative. I actively engage with the creative process each and every day.