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The Monk Way: The Perfectionist ...

Posted Jan 14 2009 7:40pm


The Monk Way: The Perfectionist

Like the obsessive-compulsive detective character of the popular 'Monk' tv series, the perfectionist fixes one line of a poem over and over - until no lines are right. The perfectionist redraws the chin line on a portrait until the paper tears. The perfectionist writes so many versions of scene one that she never gets to the rest of the play. The perfectionist writes, paints, creates with one eye on her audience. Instead of enjoying the process, the perfectionist is constantly grading the results.

The perfectionist has married the logic side of the brain. The critic reigns supreme in the perfectionist's creative household. A brilliant descriptive prose passage is critiqued with a white-gloved approach: "Hmmm. What about this comma? Is this how you spell..?

For the perfectionist, there are no first drafts, rough sketches, warm-up exercises. Every draft is meant to be final, perfect, set in stone.

Midway through a project, the perfectionist decides to read it all over, outline it, see where it's going.

And where is it going? Nowhere, very fast.

The perfectionist is never satisfied. The perfectionist never says, "this is pretty good. I think I'll just keep going."

To the perfectionist, there is always room for improvement. The perfectionist calls this humility, getting it right, having standards.

But perfectionism has nothing to do with getting it right. It has nothing to do with fixing things. It has nothing to do with standards. In reality, it is egotism. It is pride that makes us want to write a perfect script, paint a perfect painting, perform a perfect audition monologue.

Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move ahead. It is a loop - an obsessive, debilitating closed system that causes you to get stuck in the details of what you are writing or painting or making and to lose sight of the whole.

Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will every be good enough - that we should try again.

But, no. We should not.

"A painting is never finished. It simply stops in interesting places," said Paul Gardner. A book is never finished. But at a certain point you stop writing it and go on to the next thing. A film is never cut perfectly, but at a certain point you let go and call it done.

That is a normal part of any creative process - letting go. We always do the best that we can by the light we have to see by.

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