I can’t decide which post I want to write – the one about perfectionism, the one about getting naked, or the one about handling criticism. All three have been on my mind lately, rumbling around in my brain, writing themselves in my head when I’m driving, or in the shower, or on the phone so I can’t stop easily to get my thoughts down on paper.
All three are on my mind now too, so rather than tease one out and shape it into a post, let’s talk about all three. I think they’re related anyway, the undercurrents of a creative life.
… On perfectionism
Last night I woke up in the middle of the night and on my way to the bathroom, I thought this: the Love Essays don’t have to be perfect, they have to be honest; they have to be true. It was a reassuring thought, but I had to let it to go because waking up in the middle of the night is a dicey proposition for me. If I let my brain get started on even the tiniest of things, there’s a good chance I won’t be able to coax it back to sleep. Thinking about all the times when my desire to write something dazzling and masterful has prevented me from writing anything at all is a sure way to be up all night.
I was able to go back to sleep by telling myself I didn’t need to write a post on the dangers of perfectionism. I could just show you Robin Black’s piece, “Writer’s Block: On The Persistence of Demons” because it’s all about the stultifying effects of wanting to write (be, live) perfect.
… On getting naked
In writing the Love Essays, I’m attempting a literary nakedness that is new to me. It’s not that I’ve never dug deep before; I have. But it’s different pouring myself into a fictional piece. Writing fiction is like dancing naked… but doing it under all my clothes so only I know. Writing openly about my own experiences… that’s more like pole dancing in a strip joint under a white-hot spotlight.
In her inspiring post for Writer Unboxed, author Robin LaFevers says:
In order to take our writing to the next level we must embrace our strange, unique, and often embarrassing selves and write about the things that really matter to us. We need to be willing to peel our own layers back until we reach that tender, raw, voiceless place—the place where our crunchiest stories come from.
I think that’s right. I spend a lot of time feeling jagged and uncertain these days, wondering as I write what to put in, what to leave out, certain I’ve nailed it one minute and then just as certain the next that I’ve fallen short. I think that’s okay. I think that’s how it feels to be in the “tender, raw, voiceless place.”
… On handling criticism
Here’s the thing about “the next level.” It’s scary. That’s why it’s called “the next level.” If it weren’t scary and challenging and occasionally nauseating, we’d call it something innocuous like, “right over there” or “just over yonder.” Let’s face it, taking your art (work, relationship, life) “just over yonder” is way less frightening than taking it to “the next level.”
The next level is scary and, by definition, unfamiliar. So when you get criticized there, told that you’re doing it wrong or that you are (as your demons have said) not good enough, it’s tempting to want to jump back to the level you know. But don’t. It’s not about your critics. It’s not about what other people think you should or shouldn’t do. It’s about you and your own unquestionable, unstoppable, dogged evolution… that especially crunchy story only you can tell.
(It’s true that I wrote that last part for me, but I’m leaving it in just in case you need to be reminded too. And if you’re feeling stung by a critic or critics, read this from Tara Sophia Mohr about the nature of feedback; it’ll make you feel better.)