When I was writing a nutrition book several years ago, I spent a lot of time not writing. I cleaned, napped, drank, anything to avoid what I knew I had to do (and actually really wanted to do!). I thought I was an expert procrastinator until I completed a questionnaire at the end of Robert Boice’s book Professors As Writers, entitled The Blocking Questionnaire. The Blocking Questionnaire is sort of a Myers & Briggs test for your writing personality. Based on your answers to multiple questions regarding overt, cognitive/emotional, and social signs of blocking (as in writer’s block), you are scored in several areas, including work apprehension, procrastination, writing apprehension, dysphoria, impatience, perfectionism, and rules. While all of these things are likely to affect writers to some degree, typically one quality predominates.
Based on my results, I found that what I thought of as procrastination was firmly rooted in perfectionism. I was finally able to complete my book once I heeded Boice’s advice: “perfectionists learn to laugh at their perfectionism and to put it in its proper place – toward the end of the writing process. They do so, at least in the short run, by confronting their internal critic and by writing around him or her.”
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post called Practicing Imperfection. At that time, I had reached a tipping point regarding the unrealistic standards I hold myself to. In drafting my declaration of imperfection, I seem to have touched a nerve, with myself and several others. And, as often happens with me, it wasn’t until after I had written it that I realized just how true, important, and poignant this issue is.
I find that much of my internal monologue is about perfection, how I should be able to achieve it, yet how incapable I am of it. Case in point: for the past several years I have dreamed of writing a book about my experiences quitting drinking, beginning meditation, and learning to lean into my real (though messy, unpredictable, and often uncomfortable) life. While I have every logical reason to believe I am capable of this (past book writing experience, basic ability to string together sentences, an encouraging and supportive network), I have delayed the actual writing of the book.
My inner perfectionist doesn’t think it’s worth writing if it’s not a best-seller, if it doesn’t land of me on the present day equivalent of the Oprah Winfrey show, and if basically everyone doesn’t love me for writing it. Again, I spend much of my time and energy not writing this book. Instead, I do research so that I won’t omit any important information when I do finally commit to writing, I play with shifting the focus of the book proposal this way and that, and I furtively scan recently published book titles assuming one day I’ll find someone has beat me to it.
Who could live with these expectations? I would never place such pressure on someone I love…isn’t that a mouthful? While I can’t say that I will no longer be a perfectionist, I am committing to making imperfection a practice, much like meditation. What this leads to remains to be seen.