Monday, 31 May 2010

Perfectionism is the Enemy

When I had just started secondary school one of the English teachers - the cool one under thirty who wore mini-skirts and who we all wanted to impress - set this essay title: If a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing badly. I didn't understand what it meant, so when I got home I asked my mother. She snorted. Ridiculous! They've got it wrong - if a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing well. This was what I expected her to say, having been told off enough times for my poor standards regarding the washing up and tidying my bedroom. Confused, I chose a different essay title.

But the original title bothered me. What could it mean? I didn't work it out until much, much later when I started to see people not even try, in case they failed. I'd encourage them to send their work to creative writing competitions or out to agents, only to have them demur and say things like: it's not ready yet. I spoke to a student recently who was frozen. Complete writer's block. She couldn't write in case what she wrote wasn't perfect.

But the first wonderful thing about creative writing is that there is no such thing as a perfect piece of writing. You can't fail, because there is no absolute standard of perfection. Everybody's had the experience of being recommended to read a book, only to discover it leaves them cold. For example, I love the opening to Captain Corelli's Mandolin, but I know it puts other people off. And The Da Vinci Code wasn't a page turner for me, more a yawn maker.

So write. Write what you like. Write lots. Try this, try that. Throw away what you don't like, keep what you do. If you've got something you want to say, say it, and stuff the way it's written. Give yourself permission to write badly. And if you're aspiring to get published (and not everyone is) then send it out when you've got to the point of tinkering round the edges. Don't wait until it's perfect, because it never will be. Write, write, then write some more. If writing's worth doing, it's worth doing badly. Apart from anything else, the second wonderful thing about creative writing is you can always go back and edit.

My next event will be speaking at Corsham Library, Wiltshire with fellow New Romantics Lucy Diamond and Veronica Henry 3rd June at 7.30pm. Come and join us!

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