- Tracey Kelley
Ya gotta start somewhere....
The irrefutable wisdom of Anne Lamott, the patron saint of insecure writers everywhere. With Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, now nearly 25 years young, Lamott extended a handful of coffee beans and a get-out-of-perfectionist-jail free card to every crafting wannabe so he or she would get out of his or her own way.
Reading BbB was my first concrete reinforcement of shared artistry: if we simply continue to encourage one another, regardless of medium, the wellspring of creativity is never limited.
Too often, we get so bogged down in process we forget we're not the only writers with crappy first drafts. Half-written stories workshopped years' ago hidden on an old jump drive. Elusive contest entries that didn't make the cut. These fluttering pieces sometime cloud the successes we do have--and shadow our ability to rejoice in the artistry of others, and acknowledge how it fuels us to continue. It's less about the axiom that misery loves company and more about someone pressing a waterlogged towel to your lips when you're on the ropes.
Lamott makes this great statement in BbB: "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. 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 whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it."
This is an elixir I need to drink every day.
Whether for creative or professional writing, I have to stay mindful of the swirling presence of the perfectionism specter. It does nothing for my discipline--in fact, it can drag it into a murky ditch if I'm not careful. Yet I also don't subscribe to another popular view, which is "Done is better than perfect." I want the soft, grassy median between those sides. The ability to recognize the importance of simply starting and following a path of forward progression. Sometimes a natural end point appears--a client deadline, perhaps. Other times a story runs out of steam and needs to rest for a while. And often, especially with creative projects, the end doesn't resemble the beginning at all--a fact I could have never known until I reached that point.
To begin is a wavering high wire between what's known and what remains to be discovered. Creation isn't about perfection, be it with our craft or expectations. What makes moving heel-to-toe easier is to share the process with other creative forces so we create a net beneath one another. We've all started on the first brick. And we'll all get to other side eventually. The joy is in the movement.