Friday, December 14, 2012

The perfectionism problem

I've heard a couple of things recently about how working artists have to learn to accept that they will make things that aren't perfect.  Mary Robinette Kowal, a sf/f author who has also worked in puppet theatre for a long time, said on the Writing Excuses podcast that as a young puppeteer she was taught to shoot for 100%, but to be happy with 80.  Dan Wells (another writer on the podcast) also said that writers need to be okay with writing a bad book -- there will always be another.

It's tough for me to give up on perfection, especially with Home Before Dark, which is very personal and emotionally challenging -- much more so than my previous plays.  I have a lot to say with this play, much of which I have never said before.  When writing and editing, I've definitely felt that I need to get it right, and if I don't, everything will be wrong.  As with many ridiculous beliefs, that feeling contains a speck of truth smothered in layers of bullshit.

My writing is pretty spare (at least in plays; I know I can get blathery here).  If a character says more than ten or twelve words at once, it's usually a very bad sign.  As I mentioned here, I admire Kazuo Ishiguro's minimalism, and I like it when characters refuse to talk about what's wrong.  The problem with writing like that (at least for me) is that subtext is fucking hard, and when it's not laid in correctly, a scene can end up worthless.  So construction is a delicate process, and I've got a lot of learning ahead of me, so it doesn't always work.  And then my brain goes IF ANY OF IT IS WRONG THEN ALL OF IT IS A FAILURE.

Which is, uh, complete nonsense, but man is it hard to remember.

I'm confronting this problem right now because of grad school applications and the immutability of their deadlines.  I know the play's not perfect, but I'm submitting it anyway, and while that's good for me, it feels kind of sticky and gross.  The thing I have to concentrate on is that if I could write a perfect play, then I wouldn't need grad school.  So shut up, brain.

In unrelated news, today the cat got into a pocket in my bag, retrieved a piece of pita bread wrapped in a napkin, and took several delicate bites out of it before we noticed.  Because she is a wang.

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