“Perfection Isn’t that Interesting…”
Updated: Mar 15, 2019
It is more interesting to do things with sincerity and a certain quirkiness,” said late, renowned chef Charlie Trotter. “With perfection, there is no tolerance for failure, which imparts valuable lessons.”
Do you play Sudoku, poker or video games? Do you solve crossword puzzles? The reason you enjoy these conundrums is because they challenge you. After you’ve nailed a level of crossword puzzle, Wordfinder, Sudoku or the latest word game on your Smartphone, you are changed. You see and think differently. You now know how to play these games more skillfully than you did before. The deliberate struggle toward increased gaming skill doesn’t feel like failure, it feels rewarding as you apply your new superpowers to the next level of play.
It’s the same with writing. Don’t expect writing to be easy, expect it to be challenging – to grapple with it in ways that inspire you and grow your craft.
“Contrary to what our intuition and habits tell us, fun isn’t accessed through facility – by choosing to do exactly what we want or by taking the easy path instead of the difficult one,” writes Ian Bogost in his book, Play Anything. “In fact, the deliberateness and respect that produce fun result from deep dives into subjects rather than superficial explorations of them.”
Writing anxiety comes from imagining we can create in one straight, fluid line and bypass grappling, the challenges inherent to learning then mastering something new. We can’t. Grappling is part of artmaking. Once you get that, you will have a blast with the growth-producing puzzles that will advance your writing.
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Let’s Get Cookin’!
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A form of writing that intrigues you but with which you have little to no experience; poetry if you typically write prose. Non-fiction if you always write fiction; humor if you typically lean toward drama.
A mindset of “I don’t know” as a good place to start.
5 minutes: identify your “I don’t know” starting place as in “I don’t know anything about writing a 30-minute sitcom so I’ll start there.”
120 minutes; you need this time to go deep and explore. Grappling – transforming your writing skills through challenge – is not a surface endeavor.
Get super comfortable. For me, it’s in my bed, propped with pillows behind my neck and back.
Just start. No researching online or talking to other people.
Once you begin, the writing itself will tell you in what direction it wants to go.
Risk with intention; attempt new and different ways of thinking.
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To grapple is to take risks, to be okay with making mistakes because they are an integral part of our growth as writers. Striving for perfection is painful for the simple reason there is no such thing. Risk and mistakes are messy but focus us on our process of best effort at every given moment, not on talent as an inherent trait.
“At Two Rivers, we spend the first weeks of the school year working on creating a shared language of grappling,” writes Caroline Mwendwa-Baker in her article, Creating a Culture of Grappling: Building Perseverance and Emotional Stamina in All Students:
“…By providing students with observations about their work, we encourage them to be self-reflective of their own practices and examine how their work can be improved through deeper questioning, intentional risk taking, and attempting new and different ways of thinking.”
What Caroline Mwendwa-Baker calls “grappling, research scientist “Anders Ericsson calls ‘deliberate practice,’ to distinguish it from what most of the rest of us get up to,” writes Matthew Syed in his book, Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham and the Science of Success. “I am going to call it purposeful practice. Why? Because the practice sessions of aspiring champions have a specific and never-changing purpose: progress. Every second of every minute of every hour, the goal is to extend one’s mind and body, to push oneself beyond the outer limits of one’s capacities, to engage so deeply in the task that one leaves the training session, literally a changed person."
Educationist Ken Robinson’s view on conscious, directed challenge is “creating through this restless process of imagining alternatives and possibilities.” Self-improvement guru Seth Godin calls this challenge/learning cycle The Dip:
“All of us go through what’s called ‘The Dip’ whenever we’re learning something new.
Here’s how the learning curve usually works:
You have a steep learning curve, and make significant progress in the first few weeks/months.
As you start to go beyond the preliminary steps, your progress plateaus (or dips)
After a period of struggle, practice, and patience, you overcome the dip and gain even bigger results.
No matter how talented you are, what you’re learning, or who you have working with you, the learning curve is inevitable. The top performing athletes, business leaders, and language learners are constantly battling through the crests and troughs of mastering their respective skillsets. In fact, the main difference between fast learners and average learners is not innate talent, but how fast one can progress from one dip to another.”
“Doing is particularly hard for artists who are in the beginning stages of their creative field,” writes Michelle Aldredge in her article, Sol LeWitt’s Advice to Eva Hesse: Don’t Worry about Cool, Make Your Own Uncool. “As Ira Glass has explained, there is often a gap between taste and skill when starting out. We aspire to become artists because we love great music, paintings, or books. But there is often a gulf between our aspirations and our skills. Overcome by self-doubt and indecision, many beginners quit at this stage. But artists who have the nerve to push through this awkward, uncomfortable phase evolve and eventually improve. Over time, they find their own unique style, the right medium, and a routine that makes original art possible.”
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