Turning Whine into Gold
I had just turned in my second novel after an intense ten months of 15-hour days. Since most of that time was spent sitting, my first celebratory act was taking a walk with my husband to brainstorm ideas for this blog post, the fourth and last installment adapting Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements for writers.
And I couldn’t think of the fourth agreement.
I ramped up for momentum:
- Be impeccable with your word.
- Don’t take anything personally.
- Don’t make assumptions.
- and…still drew a blank.
Dave pulled out his smartphone and looked up the fourth agreement—and started laughing.
He finally paused to take a breath. “The fourth is, Always do your best,” he said. “That one’s so ingrained in you it’s no wonder you couldn’t remember it.”
Dave was referring to my tendency toward perfectionism (But I am not a perfectionist! I am a “recovering” perfectionist!), a condition that can, over time, destroy one’s soul and relationships.
Read what Don Miguel Ruiz has to say on doing your best, and you will see the difference between that and perfectionism:
Always do your best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.
If you’re a perfectionist, your life is all about self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.
Seventeen years ago I butted up against the toughest circumstances of my life when my first husband killed himself after a daylong standoff at our idyllic little farm. He was an alcoholic, and even though he had plunged our family into financial jeopardy, and I was going to divorce him, I still went to the wall again and again to get him the help he needed, making the standoff’s violent conclusion all the more shocking.
I learned a tough truth: there are forces in this world that are more powerful than any one high-achiever’s means to combat them. But my actions absolved me of what could have been a horrific load of guilt and regret after his suicide. I knew I had done my best.
I also knew I would one day write this story, and when my agent presented The Far End of Happy as my option book, Sourcebooks gave me the opportunity to publish its novelization.
Ruiz cautions us to do our best “under any circumstance.” Writing this novel, which as anyone could imagine was emotionally wrenching, came with its own set of extreme circumstances:
• Those rights my agent sold? She did so with a sketchy 2-1/2 page synopsis and an author’s note. No sample pages. Meaning I had very few approved guiderails for the writing of it.
• In the midst of that ten-month period I had to suspend writing on it altogether for six weeks so I could complete my blog tour and launch for The Art of Falling.
• I had to wed fact and fiction and come up with something that felt true.
• I experimented with backstory and failed. I had integrated prior events in reverse order, which seemed the best way to get the story down on paper—but I hadn’t done my best at meeting my readers’ needs for an emotionally relatable journey. After my first delivery date I had three weeks to rip out all the backstory, re-order, and re-insert, revising to make all that work.
• At the moment of my second developmental deadline—when it seemed all was coming together—I discovered the manuscript had corrupted, garbling three days worth of changes, which demanded a 21-1/2–hour marathon to correct.
Despite all that I refused to exhibit the dreaded yet well-known sophomore slump, and wanted to meet or exceed the bar I’d set with The Art of Falling. Now that the book has been delivered, I must rest knowing I did my best given these circumstances.
Will it be perfect? No. There was nothing perfect about that goddawful day anyway. It was very human, and the book and the way it’s written will reflect that.
Was it simply “good enough?" Hell no. I have not, and will never, aspire to mediocrity. In a tough competitive industry, I do not believe that this is how one stays published.
I fretted a bit—but only a bit, because the fretting happens when you are NOT doing the work, and I didn’t have much time off! But I never panicked. I just wrote every day, enjoying the process as always, pushing into the sleeping hours when need be so I had the time to do my best. As it turned out, this past week I had a chance to polish it to my usual standards—and turned it in a day early.
I am simply a writer, doing my best. I encourage you to do the same. Don Miguel Ruiz promises, “If you do your best always, transformation will happen as a matter of course.”
To that I say, "Amen."
Do you have perfectionist tendencies? Have they injured your self-esteem? How do you work around it when it comes to your writing?
Kathryn Craft is the author of two novels from Sourcebooks: The Art of Falling, and The Far End of Happy, due May 2015.
Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she now serves as book club liaison for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She hosts lakeside writing retreats for women in northern New York State, leads workshops, and speaks often about writing.
Kathryn lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA. Although a member of The Liars Club, she swears that everything in this bio is true.