A Work in Progress

Breaking news…the rewrite of my novel isn’t completed yet. That’s not the announcement I expected to make at this point. I hoped to be further along in the process, but my progress has been painstakingly slow.

I recently read the book Finished, Give Yourself the Gift of Done, by Jon Acuff. If you read my previous post, I warned you it would reappear. Isn’t that a mark of a successful book, movie, or TV show? It sets off a chain of thoughts and ideas and you keep thinking about it later? BTW, the answer is, YES.

After considerable thought I have made a self-diagnosis. I may be suffering from perfectionism. The vision I have for my novel does not match the version I’ve written. What I imagined falls flat when I reread my words. Part of the problem is that I still have a lot to learn about the craft of writing. According to Acuff, another problem is created by the secret rules and noble obstacles I throw into the mix.

Acuff says perfectionism is a desperate attempt to live up to impossible standards and we accumulate rules and obstacles as a type of protection. We make them up, sometimes without even realizing we are doing it. We abide by secret rules such as, I’m not a writer until I win an award, or, if I don’t write a bestseller then I’ll be a failure. We make excuses for our lack of progress by blaming noble obstacles. These are good, solid reasons for martyrdom, such as, I deprive my family if I waste time writing.

I struggled with this post for several days until I realized my perfectionism had reared its ugly head. I had decided that if I didn’t highlight ALL the hints and tips and humorous remarks, I wasn’t doing the book justice. I realized I was being ridiculous. It wasn’t my job to rewrite Acuff’s book. If you’re intrigued, you’ll read the book yourself. What I really wanted to share was what some of his concepts meant to me.

What did I discover? I think one of my secret rules is I feel the need for an authority to grant me permission and approval. Like most first-borns, I’ve learned to live by the rules. I want to be a straight “A” student, however, I’m no longer in school. There is no teacher to assign a due date or grade my work. How do I know when I’ve succeeded? I spiral into despair, doubt, and uncertainty.

If I go ahead and write anyway, I stumble into a noble obstacle. How can I justify the pursuit of such a frivolous activity? Dinner must be cooked. The house must be cleaned. Who else will do the laundry?

Acuff offers some helpful suggestions. When you uncover a secret rule write it down and ask yourself some questions. What does it mean? Who says it is so? Then create a new rule to replace the old one. Realize your noble obstacles are excuses and enlist a trusted friend to help you recognize them.

It’s okay if my novel isn’t finished yet. I’m not in a race and I still need training wheels. It’s okay if I don’t have a bestseller under my belt, or even if no human (other than myself) reads this blog. I give myself permission to proceed at my own pace. I’ll get there eventually.

What stands in your way? Have you found a way to overcome it?

2 thoughts on “A Work in Progress”

  1. Hi, Debra!
    This is a wonderful post–I can definitely relate! Sadly, this is the first of your posts that I’ve read because I’ve been way too busy. That’s my obstacle–“busyness.” Taking the time to do the things I enjoy (like reading your posts) is something I need to do more often. But, it’s hard to make that my new rule when there’s laundry and kids and cooking. Ack! That’s something I’ll have to work on. My other obstacle is a combination of perfectionism and feeling like a fraud. (I’m not a REAL writer …) So, I’m going to sign up for Becky Rawnsley’s June course to learn more writing skills and bolster my confidence.
    Thanks for a wonderful post! I look forward to making time to read more of them! Take care and keep writing!

  2. Thanks for your encouragement! Recently I’ve had events-graduation, birthdays, etc… They make it so easy to fall off the writing wagon. I needed a boost to get back into routine. Enjoy your course. I also take a lot of online classes and they are so helpful!

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