Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Perfect Writers Need Not Read...

See the ninja right there? It's my son and to show how imperfect I am, I'm breaking a rule of mine. You see I never put pictures of my family on social media. But with all those strips on his face he's not so recognizable. At least I hope so.

No, this isn't my son's Halloween costume. Facial wax strips, in case you couldn't tell. His sister thought it would be hilarious to turn him into a mummy. And he complacently agreed.

Comedy is no fun without an audience and so our creative children decided to assume the mummy position and march their way downstairs an hour past their bedtime. (Need I mention that the removal wasn't as amusing for my son?)

If you are a parent no doubt you've held back a snicker or two as your children acted like trouble with a capital "T" and somehow became astoundingly cute at the same time. Too bad it doesn't really work with grown-ups.

The jovial mood was gone as we had to remove the strips from Noah's face one-by-one. Lesson learned.  Our two children finally settled in to sleep as we headed out of reach to have a chuckle.

What's your point, Julia? And what does this have to do with writing anyway?

The picture displayed and described will be part of a video for the launch of a great new parenting book called No More Perfect Kids by Kathy Koch and Jill Savage.

I am thrilled to have my picture displayed as part of the message that there are no perfect moms or kids, but by God's grace we can keep growing. For many years I carried scars about being imperfect. Don't we carry those same scars as writers?

*That comment made by a contest judge that still enters our mind word for word every time we polish a story for a new competition?

*Those lies the enemy whispers into our ear during our writing time that keep us hitting the backspace and ending up with a near empty page?

*The lies that keep us from bringing our writing to share with others at our critique group because its not polished enough...for the third week in a row?

*The continual frustrated feeling that our writing will never be where we want it to be?

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, I have come that they might have life and have it to the full. JOHN 10:10 NIV

How do we know the difference between perfectionism and a healthy perception of "good enough"?

Here's the definition of perfectionism, according to Merriam-Webster online: a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable.

NEWSFLASH: There are no perfect writers, never have been. Shooting for perfection will only lead to condemnation which will eventually result in lack of growth.

Why? Because we can never reach the standard we set for ourselves so we will give up. Its not productive.

Perfectionism steals our joy. We will never be good enough. Our descriptions, our dialogue, nothing about our writing can compare to the standard of perfection.

It KILLS our love of writing. It isn't too long before we say, why bother?

This call to life includes our writing. God wants us to grow and flourish like spring plants in our writing as we arch closer to the sun (SON).

So how do we allow God to breathe life and growth into our writing, rather than letting the weeds of perfectionism kill our joy and productivity?

1) Consider writing with pen and paper for your first draft.

We are often told to write a sloppy first copy. This can be especially challenging for a perfectionist. Writing with pen on paper allows you to process before deleting. Maybe there is a word or two in there worth saving. For those who have a reflex toward hitting the delete key, writing in pen may be helpful.

2) Set a deadline for "good enough."

Determine a time when you will show your work. Give yourself plenty of time to polish, but maybe a little less time than you wish. After a certain number of days on this chapter, determine you will show it to a critique partner.

3) Stop apologizing for your work.

We're not perfect. We do need critique partners, contest judges and others to help us grow. BUT never apologize for where you are in your journey. You need to accept that your rate of speed is your own. Your growth is your own. Focus on doing your best with the time you have.

For I am confident of this very thing; that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6, NASB

Christ gave us any gifts we have to offer. AND HE will PERFECT it for when HE RETURNS for His bride. You are a work in process. He is doing the work. Notice God doesn't say we will or can perfect anything here.

4) Throw off the "sin" that hinders.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. HEBREWS 12:1, NIV

"Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; ACTS 3:19, NASB

Perfectionism doesn't lead to refreshing, only frustration. Spend time with the Lord. Sin in any area of your life will hinder your writing ministry. God wants to bring freshness and newness. If God has called us to write, it should bring rejuvenation to us as well. Yes, there are hard times, but it should bring us a sense of peace in being obedient to His calling. Make sure there is nothing else in your life that is hindering your writing. Remember you can't do any of this in your own strength.

Often perfectionism comes from pride. We are worried about what others might think of our work more than what God thinks of it.

Do we want to make a good impression to glorify us? Is it that we want people to see our talent and praise us, rather than just allowing God to minister through us?

Will we accept a quiet ministry of glorifying him or do we want to be known in our field for our own merits?
5) Run with perseverance.

Seek out an online course. Admit to a friend or critique partner that she is much better than you are at dialogue and ask for her tips. Humility can be a great medication for perfectionism.

Set a goal for your own growth that is measurable. Instead of saying I will master dialogue this year, how about I will read two books about dialogue this month and each day I will revise one chapter, looking specifically for ways to improve?

6) Run the race marked out for YOU.

Your race is not anyone else's. God's timing for you is not the same. The refining tools he uses may look different. BUT rest assured he has a specific plan and a course marked out for you. He will guide you along the way. He delights to show you the "ropes" and cheer you on. Run with perseverance toward the finish line.

He who began a good work in you will complete it, keep running toward the finish line.

Let go of being perfect and be all God created you to be instead.

YOUR TURN: Do you struggle with perfectionism in your writing? Or in other areas of your life? Have you found anything that helps you overcome the threat of perfection?

Julia writes contemporary fiction to mirror truth. A former assistant librarian, she now channels her card cataloguing skills into homeschooling her elementary aged littles and writing for Library Journal. She has reviewed for a variety of websites for several years.


Heather Marsten said...

Ouch. While I'm sure your son was not laughing, this made me chuckle. Kids sure keep us on our toes. My sister-in-law told me that one time, after she had packed for the movers, she left her kids alone for a bit. When the movers came, she brought them to her bedroom to pick up boxes to find her whole wall decorated with stick on Kotex mini pads.

Julia M. Reffner said...

Oh my goodness, HEATHER. How embarrassing at the time although I'm sure they had lots of laughs over it later.

Unknown said...

Well said and timely, Julia. I for one struggle constantly with perfectionism to the point that I get discouraged enough to want to just give up on writing altogether.

I really loved the reminder in number 6: "Run the race marked out for YOU." It's way too easy to compare my progress to other peoples' and (again) get discouraged. But my race is my race, not anybody else's.

Thank you again for sharing this today.


Krista Phillips said...

Such good thoughts!!!

I teeter between perfectionism and total complacency. I REALLY want things perfect, but tend to have a "heck with it" attitude that is not healthy either to try to combat my need for everything to be perfect. Does that make any sense?? It's when I try to convince myself that I don't really care because I know I can't get it right, that I self- sabatosh and just not care which isn't good.

If you ever read a blog post of mine that has a billion grammar/spelling errors... you know what kind of mood I was in:-) :-)

Stacey said...

Great post, Julia. Very timely. I needed to read this today. Thank you!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Beautiful thoughts, Julia. Yes, I've struggled with perfectionism. When I put my eyes on what I can see of others' journeys, I always find myself "less than." It's a depressing place to be.

You bring up good points. The biggest lesson the Lord is walking me through right now is remembering that I can only walk MY journey, my race. And my speed is in God's hands. I am learning to be okay with this, and release the expectations I'd placed on myself in this regard.

Thanks for your thoughts today.

Pepper said...

Great post, Julia.
You know, I think writing is my biggest 'perfection' struggle and it stems from insecurity.
Whether I'm comparing myself to a grandiose ideal (Laura Frantz ;-) or my own expectation, I fall short in my own eyes.
It's a great reminder that our hope, our joy, and our gift to write (or do about anything else) is based on the unconditional love of our heavenly Father.
With arms open wide he says, "Because of my Son, you are already good enough."
That's something I need to remember often.
You're right to talk about a healthy balance between unacceptable perfectionism and healthy awareness for growth. Just because we know we're loved and accepted doesn't mean we write without purpose or drive toward our best.
It should make us strive to give our best, but know that we're still loved regardless of the outcome.

Great words and thoughts today, Julia!!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

So so good, Jules!!! I have relaxed a bit since becoming a mom and having life spiral out of control, but I have always struggled with perfectionistic tendancies. No one thrust them on me, but I always put unrealistically high expectations on myself. And of course, I wouldn't rest until I met that goal, whether it was straight A's from middle school through college or an exhausting and impossible ideal body image that was always just out of reach. I believe in the power of hard work, and I also think we, ourselves, can be our greatest motivator, but we have to be careful where we set the bar. Often times it's too high, and the harder we fight to climb to the top, the more painful it is when we inevitably fall. Great thoughts for today!!!

Casey said...

Wow, Julia, do you crawl into my head and write these just for me? Because I feel as though you were speaking directly to me in this post and I soaked in ever word.

I do struggle with comparison and perfectionism with my writing. It's so easy to say that you should be further ahead than what you are, because someone who has been doing for less amount of time is further ahead of you. But I loved your bullet points. Soo many nuggets of wisdom in here, I feel I need to read it a couple more times to soak it all in. Thanks for speaking from the heart, Jules. ♥

Ashley Clark said...

Just today, I have spoken with TWO literature students who are completely overwhelmed by the 2 page paper I assigned because past instructors have been nothing short of cruel to them. As I was talking to them, I realized that I think all writers share some of this anxiety. We cling to the critiques, and if we aren't careful, they become loud. I LOVE this post, Julia, because it helps us take back the gifts God gave us and use them well. Thanks for sharing and for the inspiration!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Yes, yes, yes. Something I definitely struggle with!!! And something that I've allowed to stymie my writing for too long. I look at where I want my book to be and I have to be honest that I don't have the skills yet to take it there. So I've stopped. But is that honesty or just a cop-out? Hmmm. Probably the latter. You're definitely making me think!

I have this weird split personality, a bit like Krista. In the personality tests I'm equally Beaver/ Golden Retriever, which is an even split of perfectionistic/ organised, and easy-going. My personality fights against itself a lot. I have a lot of ideals of what I want to be like, how I want my home to run, etc etc, but then there's the laid-back side that often goes "meh.... too hard." And like most perfectionists I tend to be very all-or-nothing. If I can't do something perfectly, I'd rather not do it at all. Not all that healthy!

Loved this line: "Perfectionism steals our joy. We will never be good enough." SO true. Thanks for this great post, Julia. (And I LOVE the picture of your son!!)

Julia M. Reffner said...

So glad for the Lord's timing, LAURA. Keep at it, girl! You can do it!

KRISTA, yes, I so understand this. I'm a bit of an all-or-nothing kind of gal myself. I think maybe that's a natural trait of us perfectionists.

STACEY, so glad the Lord used it to speak to you what you needed to hear today.

Julia M. Reffner said...

JEANNE, This really struck me from your comment. "When I put my eyes on what I can see of other's journey..." My husband and I attended a conference where the speaker talked about blind spots. Everyone's journey is so imperfect of course, but we don't "see" that clearly from where we're standing. Thank you for that insight.

PEPPER, yes, so true and I have a feeling once we really understand this we will automatically strive for our best, if we saw what we were in Him. Wow, so hard sometimes.

Well said, AMY. We definitely can be our own best motivators, such a fine line to walk, isn't it? I think being a mom has helped me with it, too, in some ways, although created new insecurities at times. Because I don't want my children to put those sorts of weights on themselves.

Julia M. Reffner said...

CASEY, Crawl into your head? Neh, mine is messy enough :) Love how the spirit whispers to people throughout our days.

ASHLEY, "take back the gifts God gave us." I like that concept. Very much spiritual warfare at times. I'm so glad you are able to give Christian encouragement to students who may not get that anywhere else. College definitely can be a cruel world and I'm glad for the refuge you are providing.

KAREN, I think we're the same personality type (why am I not too surprised by that?!). Yes, most definitely an all-or-nothing kind of gal.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Great timing for me to read this post, Julia.

I was talking with a writer whom I have great respect.

I wanted her to be a guest on my website. She seemed a bit leary…she felt her writing/book wasn't good enough. She even sent me a copy of her book to read and gave me another chance to back out.

I read the first two chapters and had to force myself to stop and send her a note. Good grief, the book was stellar. I told her my thoughts and wishes to still host her. She seemed surprised and very grateful

I need to send her the link to this post.

We all need these words. This is a post to print out and tape in our work areas.

Press on for the high calling.