Do you remember the character Don Music from Sesame Street?
He’s the puppet in the classic television show being interviewed by Kermit the Frog while trying to compose a song. As Kermit tries to assist, he bangs his head on the piano keys in dramatic fashion saying, “I’ll never get it, never!” in frustration.
I have had many of those head on the keyboard moments in my writing career because I suffer from perfectionism. Rehabilitated, somewhat, I have to be mindful or I will spend hours agonizing over a single word choice. I’d have a story idea but get obsessed and frustrated that what I want to convey wasn’t coming through. So, I’d quit. It wasn’t until I realized that if I kept rewriting the first chapter until it was perfect, I’d never get to chapter two. So now I just get (awful) words on paper until I finish a draft and worry about rewriting later.
While author Kate Sparkes of Lewisporte didn’t get stuck in the perfectionism cycle for quite as long as I did, it is something she struggled with also. In our conversation earlier this month, she said, “Perfectionism kept me kinda hung up and not producing.”
“I don’t know what it is about this island, but it’s very rugged and it’s very beautiful and there’s something magical about it.”
What cured her of this debilitating condition? National Novel Writing Month, better known as Nanowrimo. (Coincidentally, this free, online challenge requires a person to complete 50,000 word draft of a novel in November. So you can start now!)
Completing the challenge knocked Sparkes out of her perfectionism. To finish the draft before the end of the month she had to forget quality and write an average of 1,667 words per day. It left no time to obsess over the perfect sentence.
“It was liberating,” she said. “It’s exciting and everybody is doing it at the same time and it put fun back into the writing.”
Sparkes has completed eight novels since then, writing fantasy and urban fantasy under her own name and the pseudonym, Tanith Frost.
Her urban fantasy is set in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I don’t know what it is about this island, but it’s very rugged and it’s very beautiful and there’s something magical about it,” she said.
As an independent author, instead of painfully trying to perfect her work on her own, she pays for editing and book covers. She also does all her own marketing. The result is that she is a USA Today bestselling author.
I myself have had to learn to excel at completing really crappy first drafts. Once the ugly story is on paper I can take delight in molding that bundle of awful into something that resembles a decent story.
Sparkes admits she struggles with feedback even though she knows it’s for the best and of the corrections or suggestions, says “I was so awful. I’d be in tears over it.”
Still, she gets through, works towards excellence and eventually hits the publish button.
This Nov. 26, instead of Nanowrimo, she’ll be releasing book five of her Immortal Soulless Series, entitled Temptation under the pen name Tanith Frost.
I myself have had to learn to excel at completing really crappy first drafts. Once the ugly story is on paper I can take delight in molding that bundle of awful into something that resembles a decent story. Fortunately for me, drafting is a fast — if painful — part of the work and rewriting is my favourite thing, now that I’ve developed my process. Molding something that was written on pure instinct and imagination into a readable story worth sharing is where the creative magic happens.
Confucius said, "Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” and I think that’s just about perfect.
Also, listen to the radio show, Bridges, here.
Carolyn R. Parsons is an author who lives in central Newfoundland and Labrador. She can be reached at email@example.com