Tag Archives: perfectionism

Hang up the cape!

Hello Tuesday’s Scribe readers! PJ here, talking about some serious stuff today. Do any of you remember running around as a kid with a bath towel draped over your shoulders and tied around your neck, pretending to be a superhero in a cape? I would even straddle a broom and gallop all over the house and yard acting as if my trusty steed and I could save the world by my sheer desire to have such power. I became Wonder Woman and threw my “javelin” at make-believe bad guys and played Army and GI Joe with my brother and his friends because it seemed so cool to be part of some elite fighting squad that could take on any foe and always “win”.

When I became a teenager and gave up my magical thinking, I was forced to face the harsh realities of life. With my mother’s cancer and ultimately her death when I was sixteen, it became clear that any illusion I had of control or of being a savior of any kind was just that…an illusion. Yet I still clung to my “cape”—that dream of being someone special—someone others could depend on, look up to, and admire. Essentially, I kept trying to be what others needed or wanted me to be. I hoped that by taking control of all the little things in life, like schedules and micromanaging a family, that the big things—like life and death—would somehow bend to my will. Of course that didn’t happen. But instead of hanging up the cape and accepting my imperfection and my mortality, I worked more, tried harder, and sacrificed my own feelings for the benefit of everyone else’s. Over time, that cape became more and more attached to my identity and others expected the same level of perfection that I expected of myself.

As a mother, a wife, a healer, a teacher, and as an athlete, perfectionism was my creed. I was Superwoman! Of course I didn’t know it at the time, and I certainly didn’t consciously believe that I could or should strive for perfection, but my need for control in a life filled with chaos and fear, was as natural as breathing for me. By the time I reached my thirties, the cape had been pretty much tattooed into my skin. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t strive for excellence in all that we do. We are definitely happiest when we are feeling successful in our lives (whatever that means for you). What I am saying is that perfection is unattainable and that learning to accept and love ourselves for who we are is an essential ingredient in finding what we all crave far more than control—peace of mind.

So when you start to come down on yourself about not “measuring up” or feel as if you can’t get out of your own way to save your life because life is—let’s face it—kicking your ass, just remember, you are exactly where you are supposed to be. Learn whatever lessons you can learn in your current circumstance and do yourself a favor; hang up the cape. Maybe you ask for help, maybe you take a day off, maybe you even crawl under the covers and avoid dealing with an out of control inbox, a persnickety computer, and looming deadlines. Or maybe you do what every Superhero should do—take off the cape and let the world see how amazing and awesome you really are all by yourself.

Today’s Unlocked Secret: Be true to yourself, strive to be the best you can be, and know that you are amazing just the way you are.

Any Superheroes out there looking to shed their capes? Have you been trying to “do it all and feeling like you’re coming up short?”

Dudley Do-Right and Miss Goody Two-Shoes

Katy Lee here. Last week I spoke about the annoyingly flawed Drama Queen—the character a reader wants nothing more than to reach their hands into the book and shake the tiara right off their perfectly coiffed head.

But what about the other character extreme? The protagonist who does everything right, makes perfect choices, and has no faults or weaknesses.

YUCK! Talk about a downer.

Instead of escaping into a fun and uplifting experience from our everyday lives, we get a character that makes us feel guilty for not measuring up. They can even make us feel unhappy with our lives and choices. The reader needs to see at least a bit of themselves in the character if they are going to relate to them or their plight.

Heroes who are sweet and gentle, with loads of money, and who put the men in GQ to shame sound great, but without a wounded soul, or a vendetta to rectify, or a shady past that comes to light—and trips them up, they are unrealistic. Their inability to make mistakes makes them a flat and boring cliché.

And he may be your hero, but he’s playing the role as villain and destroying your story.

I understand readers want to escape and want to read about good, strong characters that are witty and beautiful, but there also needs to be an element of realism—a depth and dimension that shows the characters hopes, dreams, and desires, as well as their doubts, faults, and weaknesses.

Characters that never do wrong and never say the wrong thing, offer no progression to your story. If they don’t fail, then they don’t grow, and the story really isn’t a story.

But more than that, if we don’t see them fail, then we don’t really know the kind of person they are, and can’t relate to them or learn from them.

The Unlocked Secret: We are defined not by our failures, but by how we handle our failures. That goes the same for our characters. When a reader witnesses the character failing, but then getting up, dusting off, and trying again, then the uplifting experience they picked the book up for in the first place is successfully delivered—and you’ve got yourself a realistic and relatable story.

All By Myself . . . Don’t Wanna Be!

Welcome Scribe fans!  Suze here.  Now that I have Eric Carmen singing in a continuous falsetto loop in your heads, let me tell you my story.

Like probably everyone here, I always wanted to be a writer.  Over the years I wrote a few bad short stories, several bad first chapters to different novels, some OK poetry and some intentionally dreadful stuff (“A porkpie hat settles effortlessly to the ground . . . “). That last was just for hahas.  Or was it? Now I understand it was a clever ploy to avoid actually, um, writing.  I never took classes.  Never tried to learn the craft.  In fact, I didn’t even know you could learn the craft.  I always thought “real” writers were born knowing something I didn’t, had some innate ability to put words on a page and have them make sense.

I never got past writing the first few pages of those novels.  Because if I went any farther, I might fail.  Confession time:  I’m Suze, and I’m a Recovering Perfectionist.

Suze, you say.  It’s good to be a perfectionist.  Who wants to read crappy poetry or novels?  It’s the American Way to strive for greatness.  If you’re not a winner, you’re  a loser.  Coming out on top is all that matters.  Well, I’m here to tell you that perfectionism is limiting and destructive.  It holds us back from trying new experiences.  It certainly held me back.  If I couldn’t write Pulitzer Prize worthy stuff, right out of the box, I wasn’t even going to try.

Then, one cold December, I saw the words “Writers Group” on the calendar at our local library.  And I realized it was now or never.  Time to you-know-what or get off the pot.  I told myself I would just go to the January meeting. That’s all I had to do.  When the night of the meeting came, I grabbed a notebook and a pen and walked the block from my house to the library, took a deep breath of frosty air, then another, and opened the door.  I said to myself, Suze, you’ve given birth.  You can do this.

There were half a dozen or so people at that meeting, and I didn’t know any of them.   I sat next to J Monkeys, and as I listened to her talk about her WIP (she had just come off NaNoWriMo in November), I recognized something in her.  She had the same kernel of need in her belly as I — the need to write.  I found a Kindred Spirit that night, a Diana Barry to my Anne Shirley.

I’d had an idea for a novel kicking around for years.  With J cheering me on, I sat down to write it.  And quickly realized that the story I was writing was very different from the story I’d envisioned for so long.  See, I always thought I would write dark, literary, Joyce Carol Oates kind of stuff.  And it turned out that the story that wanted to be told was in fact a light-hearted romantic mystery.  Once I gave myself permission to let the perfectionism and pretensions go, I was able to put a whole novel into words.  The night I typed “The End” on a manuscript, I cried.

When Casey Wyatt joined us, we found another Kindred Spirit.  And it became increasingly clear to us that we needed more than the library group could give us.  The group had gotten a bit unwieldy and we were never able to agree on a focus.  Enter PJ Sharon, who told us about RWA and CTRWA. Once I joined CTRWA, I knew I was where I was supposed to be.

Now, I never miss a CTRWA meeting if I can possibly help it.  The energy in that hotel conference room is nearly palpable — energy that comes from a whole lot of people with a common goal: to write our stories and make them available to readers.

Suze‘s advice to you?  Let go of your perfectionism.  Don’t worry you’re not good enough.  Be brave.  Join a group.  If you can’t find a local group, why not start one?  If you really, truly live out in the boonies so far that you can’t get out to meet other writers, I’ll bet you can find an online group (if not, contact me.  It’s that important).  You’ll never regret it.

Now for you, Dear Readers.  Tell us how you felt when you finally typed “The End” for the first time.  Who helped you get to that point?