This quality has helped me enormously throughout my life, it keeps me learning and striving, pushes me to my limits (and gives me the feeling that I have no limits) and provides me with the courage to grow and to change. As a motivator, wanting to be perfect is a great one.
It's not so great for living in the moment. The quest for perfection skews your perception toward what's wrong. It makes you see the one slightly wilted strawberry in a basket full of plump ripe ones.
This is the lesson I am learning now in reading reviews of my book and browsing through book blogs. While the response has been extremely positive and very moving, I have noticed my uncanny ability to zero in on the one thing I can take issue with.
- An early reader wrote a great review of the book on her blog, praising it for the story, character and even saying she cried during several parts of the book. Then she ends the review by saying, "this is definitely not a beach read."
I panic. What does she mean it's not a beach read? My book is coming out in the summer!
- Another reviewer said she had never read a book where the main character cries so much.
My reaction, "OMG this is a sappy awful book!" Of course I neglected to take in all the other positive comments she had and her endorsement. (Upon further reflection I realized she was right, Cat does cry a lot.)
- Then there was the one where the reviewer did not like the book and said she felt bad because she had read on my website that it took me ten years to write it. (My reaction, "So it took me ten years to write something you couldn't finish -- great.")
Then there are the star ratings, the Amazon rankings, the thumbs up and down, the star reviews, blah, blah, blah. There are opportunities everywhere for a perfectionist to drive herself crazy (or maybe I should say "crazier")
Back when I used to do stand-up people would often come up to me and say they liked my last show more or give tips on how I could be funnier. One time a good friend waited for me backstage to tell me how offended he was by everything I said. (Everything?) Once I had a drink thrown on me by a drunken heckler and many times people walked out during my set. While I was in it, I focused on these things and struggled, there was no rejection worse than not being funny. Looking back what I remember most was not those stupid comments or harsh experiences, I remember the exhilaration of connecting with a room full of strangers, the communal feeling of taking them somewhere true and funny and leaving them in a better place. In other words, I remember the good things.
Perhaps perfection is too confining, in contracts your world rather than expands it. It defines more than it illuminates. If I could look back, now, on well...now here's what I would say, any reaction to your work is a blessing as it means you have crossed that great chasm from an idea in your head to a story that is being shared. That getting emails from readers saying they stayed up all night to finish your book is success, great success. That it feels good to connect to readers, even if your story isn't there cup of tea.
And speaking of cups of tea, make mine chamomile with some Valerian root -- this perfectionist needs to chill.