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Friday, July 20, 2012

Mr. Perfectionism

by: Michelle Rodriguez
I have a little man that lives inside my head.  He isn’t a very nice person; he’s usually full of mean comments and criticisms.  Incessant, unavoidable, and he truly talks more than anyone I’ve ever met.  Some might think he’s another character waiting for his story to be written, and believe me, if he were, I would have written that tale long ago and freed myself from his aggravating presence.  But I am not that lucky.  No, he is my sometimes friend, sometimes enemy, Perfectionism, and we’ve been together for as long as I can remember.

To some degree, every person has a voice of self-doubt.  Some are quieter than others’ and speak no more than whispers in the background that don’t interfere with life.  Confidence is supposed to mute its volume, and proven triumphs should build a barrier wall between the truth outside our heads and that nagging voice within that questions it.  For example: I am a writer; other people have told me that I am a good writer; therefore I should consider myself a good writer.  If only it were that simple!  But here is where Perfectionism puts a wrench in things.  Trial and error should have made this fact to me, but I have that cursed little man running circles in my head and insisting otherwise.  He never shuts up, no matter what proof I have that his claims are unwarranted.  No matter accolades and compliments, no matter the depth to which I love what I do, that voice argues against me.

I look at Perfectionism as a curse some of the time.  I cannot enjoy things for what they are because I’m so fixed on making them perfect, which is really sad when reality tells us perfection doesn’t exist.  Nothing I do can live up to the standard I set for myself.  That is the unfavorable truth of the matter.  But…for every grief perfectionism causes, there are advantages.  I am always pushing myself.  Whether it is on the stage singing or devising a new story that is outside my comfort limits, I never settle for anything but throwing everything out there.

In singing, that is such an integral component.  I have to get up onstage and just sing without the constant critique in my head.  When singing, you can’t trust your ears.  You have to trust how things feel on the inside.  My teacher constantly tells me to stop trying to listen because that’s what I pay her for.  And it’s true.  Your ears lie.  The sounds you hear are mere echoes of the sounds you’re making.  For a perfectionist like me, that is practically torture.  I have to discredit what I think I’m hearing and trust feeling instead.  Gasp!  When I’m onstage, I have no choice but to turn off Mr. Perfectionism and sing!  He has his say later when we can overanalyze every show together and pick at our faults.  But I don’t cower to his opinion and decide never to set foot on the stage again.  Instead, I try to exceed what I did last time: make my coloratura cleaner, faster, make the high note blossom on the pitch.  He is never happy with my performance, but he makes me a better singer because of it.

In writing, it’s an entirely different situation.  I throw it all out there when a pencil is between my fingers, but later, I have the final product before me to pick apart as I please.  A show is just that; once the final bows are taken, critique all you like, but the show is over.  Aside from video copies (which I never watch), no one will relive it except in memories.  With writing, I have physical proof forever before me.

For that reason, I cannot go back and reread any of my published works or posted stories.  That probably seems odd.  One would think I would draw inspiration by rereading, or that the mere fact I am so passionate about my stories and characters would mean that I revisit them often.  But I can’t!  I don’t read my own stuff for the enjoyment of it; I read and rip it apart.  It literally is like both a writer and an editor live in my brain at the same time.  That isn’t always a bad thing, but when Perfectionism gets thrown into the mix, then every critical word I have to say about myself gets amplified and overtakes.

Those of you who know me from my frequently posted Phantom of the Opera stories have had glimpses of my self-doubting nature and my addled nerves every time a new story goes up.  What you don’t know is the true extent.  I edit everything before it is posted, and as words fly by and I try to fall into my story, I am constantly critical about what others will think of it.  That voice speaks up inside and insists that every reader will hate it, that it isn’t as good as some of the others I’ve posted, that it will make my every loyal reader turn away from me and wonder what the heck that particular story was.  There have been times where I’ve edited a story and put off posting it for days because I was so full of doubts that Perfectionism created, and even though they hold no real validity, they make me hesitate and question.  He’s never satisfied, and when I go back and reread, he makes me unsatisfied as well.

Perfectionism makes me strive for new stories in new places, makes me fight to write tales others wouldn’t touch, builds me up by promising if I have an idea, I can always work it out.  But then in the end, its voice gives a skewed view of the final product and makes me want to interpret what my readers will say.  How foolish indeed!  Mr. Perfectionism is a cunning one, and he knows right where to hit me.

It’s so difficult to find a balance.  Perfectionism is a curse and a blessing.  I push myself to more and better things because of it, but at the same time, I am never satisfied with the things I’ve already done.  But despite its undeniable power over me, I’m trying to chip away at its hold.  At the end of the day, if I gather courage enough to post the story I mentally ripped apart in edits or sing with every bit of myself on that stage, then I’m winning meager battles.  I’m never going to be cured or kill Perfectionism permanently, but for those few moments, I outwit his control, and I guess I’ll have to settle for that.


  1. How old are you, Michelle? Don't answer that. I, too, was a perfectionist, even in elementary school, and high school, and raising our kids..until I woke up one day and...well, shoot, I could let this slide a little, and this and this...until I found I was not the PERFECTIONIST I used to be, although, I'm still a perfectionsit, all in lower case, so that I find I fret less and look around and daydream...and probably because I am not that 40, 50, whatever-year-old any more, I am a happier, more satisfied person.

    A few years ago, if an editor told me I should do this or that to my ms to make it more acceptable for the mainstream reader, I would knock myself out.
    Then I woke up one day, and asked..."what does that person know that I don't? Why is that person is so much smarter...when I know dang good and well I'm smart."...and so I began to pull books, take them away if an editor wanted some kind of re-write. Uh-uh, I thought, no way. I like my book as it is. And it will stay that way, published or not.

    Much luck to you, in your journey to find yourself...your imperfect self which might just be a whole lot more interesting. Just saying....

  2. Great post, Michelle. I'm astrologically a Leo, so I blame that for my perfectionist streak. And I know exactly how you feel.


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