I have to admit I’m not a perfectionist in most areas of my life. I’m hopeless when it comes to filing things, and you should see the state of my sock drawer. But in music and writing I am dangerously perfectionist. I have a monster inside me that is forever roaring the words: It just isn’t good enough! The reason it won’t shut up? I care passionately about these things.
Last week I was asked to play my harp at a Candlemas service in the local church. Not a huge audience and not a huge challenge, you may think. But it was one of those situations where people were sitting in rows looking at me and listening in rapt attention to every note - a guaranteed nerve-racker. And I got the finger-shakes. Finger-shakes are bad news for a harpist (those strings are incredibly close together!) The inevitable happened: I nudged a wrong note. The perfectionist monster instantly started screaming its you’re-no-good message, but I somehow managed to ignore it and carried on. At the end of the service I was surprised at the number of people who came up and said how much they loved the harp music. In fact nobody but myself had even noticed the wrong note. What they had noticed - or rather, felt - was the emotion I’d put into the music.
I am forced to admit that the nerves I often feel add a certain raw energy to my playing and, in many cases, improve it. Some of my best performances are technically my worst ones. And really, who wants perfection anyway? Perfection is DULL. A computer-generated drumbeat lacks any interest. Human drummers make far better music because there is passion, warmth and little irregularities in their rhythm that bring it alive. A digitally manufactured voice would be awful, no matter how pure and perfect in tone. Character is what we want.
How relevant this is to writing, too! I so nearly didn’t send off my novel to the Mslexia Prize because I thought it was too flawed to be in with a chance. But I knew I’d written it with passion and enthusiasm, and I hoped that counted for something – and it did!
Sensitivity is in the make-up of a writer and this sensitivity means being horribly aware of the inadequacies in our work. The perfectionist monster will try time and time again to undermine us and magnify those warts we hate so much. We do have to examine our efforts closely and honestly. We do have to be on the lookout for possible improvements and edit until we’re blue in the face. But let’s remember this: it’s more important to pour in heart and soul than to get every word in the right place.
So, perfectionist monster, stop trying to reject me. I hereby reject you! Get out!
Passion, you are welcome! Please stay forever!