Friday, October 14, 2011

In Pursuit of Imperfection

By Peg Brantley, Writer at Work, Stumbling Toward Publication

Once upon a time, a fearless little girl lived in my body. Peggy Ann dreamed little girl dreams and went after them with a sureness that startles me when I think about it today. Her parents told her she could do anything she wanted to do, and she believed them.

It took me decades to realize she'd gone missing.

When I tried to figure out where I had lost that gutsy dreamer, I understood there was probably no single defining moment. I'm pretty certain though, it had to do with failure. The successful people I saw had auras around them. Perfect auras. Anointed. They didn't fail. Ever.

I can still hear my dad's voice. "If you're going to do something, do it right." Dad encouraged my sister and I in character building almost every day of our childhoods, so when he wasn't telling us we could be anything we wanted to be, he was telling us that a half-assed approach to things was not acceptable. At some point, I morphed "right" and "perfect" and adopted the philosophy that if I couldn't be perfect at something, I shouldn't do it at all.

It became easier to let dreams fade; to turn my back on them. To walk away before I could once again be reminded I wasn't perfect. That way, I couldn't fail. Right?

Fast-forward to a new century. I will love Anne Lamott forever for telling me in Bird by Bird that I could write a "shitty first draft" and survive. But I never quite believed her—I'm a lot closer to my dad than I am to Anne. So although I had information on a logical level, it never quite made a permanent connection.

One of the tools I learned from The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron is the idea of writing morning pages. They have given me direction more than once in the few short months I've been writing them. This morning I wrote my three pages almost entirely surrounding the idea that dreams are achieved by imperfect people. Say what? By people who reach out of their imperfection to touch something bigger than they are.

No one will ever be perfect. No book will ever be perfect (and between us, that still drives me a little wild), but imperfect people write perfectly wonderful imperfect books.

By people just like me. Peggy Ann.


  1. Lovely post. I'm so glad you're letting go old blockages. I got those same messages too, and I still slap myself around for making mistakes. But I love writing novels, and I've accepted that mine will never be perfect. As long as I keep getting better. :)

  2. It is our curse, isn't it, to want every word our fingers type out to be The Right One? Some days I have to constantly whisper, "It's okay if it sucks," as I write. If I didn't, I'd never write another word.

    Perhaps we should take a cue from our characters. We write about imperfect people because perfect people are boring.

  3. Peg, I agree heartily with Gayle, that perfect characters and people are boring. Not only that, they're also so annoying! And their own lives must be very boring, I think.

    Keep writing, keep striving, tell yourself you're beautiful inside adn out, and embrace the human, interesting side of you!

  4. I also struggle with perfectionistic tendencies. I have blogged about it more than once.
    Perfection is only an illusion anyway.

  5. L.J., Gayle, Jodie, Marlyn and T.L., I'm thinkg it's a shared condition. A condtion we fight to stay on top of. Recognizing it is 90%. The rest is just choice.

    And L.J., what I tell people at every appropriate moment, is that you are a wonder. Every book better than the last. I know it must be a bit of pressure to you, but I also know you're up to it.

    Just sayin'.

  6. Thanks, Peg. I do feel the pressure to step up with every novel But breaking out and writing something different sometimes, like The Arranger, relieves some of that.

  7. It's always been my belief that we're born thinking our possibilities are endless. Look at any young child and you'll see that's evident. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way that belief gets taken away from us, and as a result we become intimidated by the possibility of failure. What many don't realize is that failure is one of the more frequent paths to success. As the saying goes, it's not how many times you fall down that matters, but how many times you get back up. That little child still lives within us all--we just have to reconnect with it. Great post, Peg. Thanks for reminding me .

  8. My favorite posts come from the heart, like this one, Peg. It's perfect.


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