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?