Perfectionism and Shitty First Drafts

August 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Not only is Anne Lamott a hysterical writer, she is incredibly insightful.  As I read Bird by Bird it felt, quite literally, like she was reading my mind.  Writing and me, well, we’ve had a love hate relationship most of my life, ever since the second grade, when I wrote a short story on ice skating that, as it turns out, wasn’t very good.  There I was pouring my heart and soul and everything I knew about double axels and lutzes down in my Five Star wide ruled notebook, only to realize after reading my classmates work that writing was much harder than I thought, and that my opus needed a bit fine tuning.  That’s when perfectionism kicked in.  I still love telling stories, but I admit, my writing is no where near as fluid a as it was when I was seven.  It’s a struggle, like a battle, and I have frequently used the expression “pulling teeth” just as Anne Lamott did to describe the creative process.  The second paragraph on page six pretty much sums up the majority of my life’s writing experiences. In  the end it is always a “matter of persistence and faith and hard work.”  You can sob, tear your hair out, chew your pencil til you realize it no longer resembles a pencil, pace restlessly or rock uncontrollably, but something will always pull you back down, preserving just enough sanity to eek out a few words.  Then a sentence.  And maybe if your luck an entire paragraph.  When I get to a full page I am always astounded.

What can make writing so difficult is the enormity of the task at hand, compounded by perfectionism which dictates perfection on the first go.  That’s not how writing or any other art form works.  Practice, practice, practice; the motto of anything worth doing.  This includes photography.  Much like writing  a novel, taking on a long-term photo story or essay can overwhelm you to the brink of tears, but the process is the same as writing.  You take it bird by bird.  By cutting the pizza into manageable portions the project becomes a step-by-step process that starts by simply mustering up all your courage and taking the first bite.

Needless to say I’ve really enjoyed reading Lamott and am looking forward to the next chapters of her “workshop.”  What she has to say is useful to, not only writers, but anyone involved in the creative arts, including photography.  Her encouragement to be bold and fail if need be, is refreshing, and reminds me of our readings from the Tao of Photography, which encourage photographers to think outside the box.  Sometimes ideas work and sometimes they don’t, but expanding yourself beyond convention will always result in something far more fulfilling, something that will make you (and hopefully your audience) feel alive.


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