Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Myth of Perfection

"The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one."
~ Elbert Hubbard

"Have no fear of perfection, you'll never reach it."
~ Salvador Dali

Are you frustrated?

Do you struggle to find the perfect words that consummately evoke the depth of your passion or flawlessly paint the fullness of your vision?

Are you frustrated because the words you have chosen seem inadequate, their ordering unsatisfactory?

You’re not alone. Many writers echo your frustration.

It’s a futile frustration, for language is an approximation. It’s a powerful but often inadequate device for translating experience and emotion into a form others can share.

When I originally wrote these words for an early draft of The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write, the sun was sliding through a marbled Hawaii sky toward the Pacific, its light skipping across wind-rippled waters.

If I was successful in that description, you will have seen some version of an ocean sunset. Some version, but not mine.

It may approach mine. It may approximate mine. Yet my words, as expertly as I may have deployed them, cannot create a Kodak moment. (Even Kodak can’t create a perfect Kodak moment.) My words are more likely to create an Impressionist moment.

That's not a bad thing. It gives readers space to have their own experience, to paint their own pictures from the words you have freed from your pen.

Just as you can't control the words that flow from you, you can't control your reader’s experience of those words. Nor would you want to.

How often have you been disappointed by a film portrayal of your favorite literary character because your inner director cast the role more astutely than the movie director did?

Empower your readers to have their own experience and recognize that all you can do is translate your experience as heartfully as you’re able into little squiggles on a page. Begin by recognizing that most of the time you’re only going to come close. Continue by knowing that it remains within your power to have your words incite revolution, topple dynasties, overthrow "reality."

That’s perfect enough for me. How about you?

Can you let go your natural human perfectionism long enough to let your story tell itself to you on the page?

What are you waiting for? Pick up your pen. Describe what you see, what you feel, what you yearn for, what you love. Don’t try to be perfect.

Don’t try at all. Just allow. And know that from that place of surrender, you are creating perfection.

Adapted from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write, winner of an IPPY Silver Medal as one of the top writings books of the year.

Photos: Santa Monica sunset (c) 2010 Mark David Gerson. Image of Salvador Dali from the University of Buffalo's 2009 Anderson Gallery Dali exhibition.

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