I remember when I was a kid I used to draw every day after school. If I didn’t like what I drew, I’d crumple up the paper and throw it away (this was before there was recycling–yes, I’m that old). Sometimes, I’d rip up the paper and throw it out (I love the feeling of ripping up paper, don’t you?). If I was using a pencil, I didn’t like doing a lot of erasing, so I’d just throw out the whole picture. I did this over and over again. I remember doing this from about age nine on, but I’m sure it started earlier.
Over time, there were some things I was perfectionistic about besides drawing, such as baking cookies (funny, I just realized that I also started baking cookies around the age of nine), and some things I could care less about, such as making sure my homework was perfect before turning it in. I have never been a fan of homework and the quicker I got it done and turned it in, the better. For example, I may not like homework, but if I was in a class that I liked, with a teacher that I liked, I’d work harder to make sure that every essay I turned in was good, and preferably great. I didn’t mind spending more time on things that mattered to me and that I thought mattered to people that I liked, loved, or respected.
I also learned early on not to throw out a batch of cookies if they didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to. First, my parents would have killed me–they both grew up very poor in Taiwan and were very against wasting food of any kind–and second, my cousins came over one time after I had baked a batch of cookies that I thought were subpar, and they ate them up and liked them. That’s when I realized that what’s not up to snuff for me could be something that someone else really likes or values.
Realizing that I’m perfectionistic about things I care about, and not perfectionistic about things I don’t care about, was a huge relief when I was in my 20’s. I thought, oh thank God, this means I won’t end up with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). Now, I know that this is not true–OCD is an anxiety disorder that involves thoughts, images, or behaviors that occur over and over again and feel out of one’s control, and are caused by various factors that may or not have anything to do with perfectionism–but at the time, it made me feel better.
Because here’s the rub.
I want to be perfectionistic about some things.
Specifically, I want to be a perfectionist about writing.
I used to be ashamed of saying that I’m a perfectionist about my writing, but I’m not any more. I’m okay with it now because I realize that no matter how much I like to perfect my writing, I love finishing just a little bit more. It’s my safety button that will keep me from going off the cliff of always perfecting and never finishing. If you’ve read my past posts, you already know that my Myers-Briggs type is ENFJ. The J side of me, the Judgement side, loves closure. So, no matter how nit-picky I get about my story, characters, plot, and prose, I will eventually make my perfectionism step aside, and after getting as much help as I can with my writing–thank God for beta readers, editors, and proofreaders–I will finish.
When I first started planning to be an author back in 2015, I thought I’d focus on production, not promotion. I had read all kinds of blogs by self-published authors who had written at least ten books over a short period of time–publishing anywhere from two to four or more books per year–and were making a living selling those books on Amazon and other online bookstores. I thought, how awesome is that? I can do that!
But, as the last 19 months of full-time writing have shown me, I don’t have the capacity to pump out several books a year. I haven’t even been able to produce one book a year. I need more time to hone my craft and my stories. And the deeper I get into the craft of writing, the more I realize that I need more time to create novels that satisfy me, thrill me, and make me proud for years to come. I want to feel great about every book that I release. Really great.
Is it crazy to want that? Is it perfectionistic?
Yes. And yes.
And I’m okay with that.
Peg Cheng is the author of The Contenders, a middle-grade novel centered on the question, can enemies become friends? She is currently writing another novel that is a re-imagining of the Snow White fairy tale set in 1980s Seattle. Peg is also a writing coach giving help, encouragement, and feedback to writers from all walks of life.
Art by Sveta Dorosheva.