Why Perfectionism Kills Creativity – Part Three

Bird by Bird: Anne Lamott’s Timeless Advice on Writing and Why Perfectionism Kills Creativity

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Hope, as Chesterton said, is the power of being cheerful in circumstances that we know to be desperate. Writing can be a pretty desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong.

At the heart of writing, lies a capacity for quiet grit and a willingness to decondition the all too human tendency to get so overwhelmed by the enormity of the journey that we’re too paralyzed to take the first step.

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Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

Neil Gaiman famously advised, “Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.”

David Foster Wallace admonished, “If your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything.”

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.

[…]

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Why Perfectionism Kills Creativity – Part Two

Bird by Bird: Anne Lamott’s Timeless Advice on Writing and Why Perfectionism Kills Creativity

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I tell my students that the odds of their getting published and of it bringing them financial security, peace of mind, and even joy are probably not that great. Ruin, hysteria, bad skin, unsightly tics, ugly financial problems, maybe; but probably not peace of mind. I tell them that I think they ought to write anyway.

pt 1 6 birds on a log in a row

My writer friends, and they are legion, do not go around beaming with quiet feelings of contentment. Most of them go around with haunted, abused, surprised looks on their faces, like lab dogs on whom very personal deodorant sprays have been tested.

But I also tell [my students] that sometimes when my writer friends are working, they feel better and more alive than they do at any other time. And sometimes when they are writing well, they feel that they are living up to something. It is as if the right words, the true words, are already inside them, and they just want to help them get out. Writing this way is a little like milking a cow: the milk is so rich and delicious, and the cow is so glad you did it.

Good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are.

[…]

pt 6 3 owls on a tree branch

Why Perfectionism Kills Creativity – Part One

Bird by Bird: Anne Lamott’s Timeless Advice on Writing and Why Perfectionism Kills Creativity

pt 1 bird by bird

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.”

One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around.

I started writing when I was seven or eight. I was very shy and strange-looking, loved reading above everything else, weighed about forty pounds at the time, and was so tense that I walked around with my shoulders up to my ears, like Richard Nixon. I saw a home movie once of a birthday party I went to in the first grade, with all these cute little boys and girls playing together like puppies, and all of a sudden I scuttled across the screen like Prufrock’s crab. I was very clearly the one who was going to grow up to be a serial killer, or

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keep dozens and dozens of cats. Instead, I got funny. I got funny because boys, older boys I didn’t even know, would ride by on their bicycles and taunt me about my weird looks. Each time felt like a drive-by shooting. I think this is why I walked like Nixon: I think I was trying to plug my ears with my shoulders, but they wouldn’t quite reach. So first I got funny and then I started to write, although I did not always write funny things.

[…]

All I ever wanted was to belong, to wear that hat of belonging.

In seventh and eighth grades I still weighed about forty pounds. I was twelve years old and had been getting teased about my strange looks for most of my life. This is a difficult country to look too different in — the United States of Advertising, as Paul Krassner puts it — and if you are too skinny or too tall or dark or weird or short or frizzy or homely or poor or nearsighted, you get crucified. I did.

Writing is “…some sort of creative or spiritual or aesthetic way of seeing the world and organizing it in your head.”

“…the thrill of seeing oneself in print,” – highest form of existential validation.

I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all what it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do — the actual act of writing — turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.

[…]

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Stephen King on Writing

Stephen King on Writing and Wakeful Dreaming

“In both writing and sleeping, we learn to be physically still at the same time we are encouraging our minds to unlock from the humdrum rational thinking of our daytime lives.”

stephen king book cover on writing

“Sleep is the greatest creative aphrodisiac,” dreaming regulates our negative emotions and “positive constructive daydreaming” enhances our creativity, while a misaligned sleep cycle is enormously mentally crippling.

Called “Creative Sleep” by King.

Like your bedroom, your writing room should be private, a place where you go to dream. Your schedule — in at about the same time every day, out when your thousand words are on paper or disk — exists in order to habituate yourself, to make yourself ready to dream just as you make yourself ready to sleep by going to bed at roughly the same time each night and following the same ritual as you go.

In both writing and sleeping, we learn to be physically still at the same time we are encouraging our minds to unlock from the humdrum rational thinking of our daytime lives. And as your mind and body grow accustomed to a certain amount of sleep each night — six hours, seven, maybe the recommended eight — so can you train your waking mind to sleep creatively and work out the vividly imagined waking dreams which are successful works of fiction.

“Creative sleep” allows us to cultivate our own worlds while writing — create the kind space necessary for wakeful dreaming. The space can be humble … and it really needs only one thing: A door you are willing to shut. The closed door is your way of telling the world that you mean business. . . .

If possible, there should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with. If there’s a window, draw the curtains or pull down the shades unless it looks out at a blank wall. For any writer, but for the beginning writer in particular, it’s wise to eliminate every possible distraction. If you continue to write, you will begin to filter out these distractions naturally, but at the start it’s best to try and take care of them before you write.

…When you write, you want to get rid of the world, don’t you? Of course you do. When you’re writing, you’re creating your own worlds.
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Virginia Woolf’s Nine Tips on How To Read a Book [Ninth]

virginia woolf a writer's life quote over photoVirginia Woolf’s Nine Tips on How To Read a Book

“If behind the erratic gunfire of the press the author felt that there was another kind of criticism, the opinion of people reading for the love of reading, slowly and unprofessionally, and judging with great sympathy and yet with great severity, might this improve the quality of his work?

Reading is not a means to some intellectual end, but an intellectual and creative reward in itself.

I have sometimes dreamt, at least, that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards — their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble — the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when He sees us coming with our books under our arms, ‘Look, those need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.’”

Virginia Woolf’s Nine Tips on How To Read a Book [Eighth]

virginia woolf a writer's life quote over photoVirginia Woolf’s Nine Tips on How To Read a Book

“If to read a book as it should be read calls for the rarest qualities of imagination, insight, and judgment, you may perhaps conclude that literature is a very complex art and that it is unlikely that we shall be able, even after a lifetime of reading, to make any valuable contribution to its criticism. We must remain readers; we shall not put on the further glory that belongs to those rare beings who are also critics. But still we have our responsibilities as readers and even our importance. The standards we raise and the judgments we pass steal into the air and become part of the atmosphere which writers breathe as they work. An influence is created which tells upon them even if it never finds its way into print.

This point, while timeless, is timelier than ever today, when we choose — with our clicks, with our subscriptions, with our sharing, with your loyalty — the types of writing and media that get produced. At a time when the reader is being reduced to a monetizable pageview-eyeball, there’s only so much pagination, so much “sponsored content,” and so many slideshows we can take — the hope is that slowly, if painfully, the media landscape will begin to shift to reflect, and respect, the art of reading and begin to treat the reader as a true ‘fellow-worker and accomplice.’”