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Some years ago, I asked a student if she thought her perfectionist tendencies were getting in the way of her completing her novel and sending it off to potential publishers. Without a pause, she said, “Oh, I’m obviously not a perfectionist. I mean, if I was perfectionist, the novel would be perfect. And it’s not.”

She’s not the only person to hold that feeling about perfectionism (perfectionist? Moi? I don’t see any perfect people here). It’s a bit of a running joke, too, for job interviews.
“What are your weaknesses, Bob?”
“Oh, perhaps that I am a perfectionist?”

The joke being, of course, that every employer would want to hire a perfectionist. More perfect for the same money! Better work! Who wouldn’t want that?

Well, actually, a smart employer wouldn’t want that. And a satisfied artist doesn’t want that.

Because perfectionism is the enemy, not merely of the perfect, it’s the enemy of the good, the enemy of the adequate. The enemy of satisfaction.

Perfectionism means that you don’t ever complete. Perfectionism means you stop yourself before you begin. It means that no idea can really flourish, because you can’t risk being wrong.

Today, ditch the perfectionist.

There will be a time when you will need a critical inner voice – that’s much later, when you are doing a final, final edit, ready to send your work off. Perfectionist, no (I humbly suggest that the perfectionist voice is never useful). But critically engaged, yes.

However, before that moment, you need to make a whole lot of mess. You need to allow yourself chaos. Like the universe itself, art comes inevitably, necessarily, from chaos. So let it in.

Allow mess and chaos and doubt into your writing today.

If you normally write on a keyboard, write longhand, with a pen.
If you write in a beautiful journal, today write on loose scrappy paper.
Write quickly and imperfectly. Repeat yourself. Use nonsense words. Illustrate your words with stick figures if you want.
Write a really terrible sentence. I mean really bad.

Write a bad paragraph. Write a simile which is as bad as an old banana. A metaphor which is the scabbiest tree in the desert. A phrase which makes as much sense as mud on water what the tree did not do.

Notice that you are still breathing after writing the terrible words. Nothing happened. No-one got hurt. Get it out of your system. You can only find your voice if you allow yourself to be terrible.

It’s time to get messy.

Now, your prompt for today…


All the leaves were brown…