I’m not entirely sure what made me decide to pick up this book last year. I like to write, but I don’t want to be an author. I guess I was just curious to read the book because I kept coming across references to it. It’s often noted as a book that’s very important for writers and very inspirational.
On one hand, I can see why people find it inspirational, but on the other hand, I feel like I learned more about the author than about being a writer. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – I’ve been inspired and changed by many books that were, on the whole, just autobiographies and a scattering of tips and life lessons.
The one part of the book that made me sit up and pay attention was her discussion about how perfectionism is like a cramped muscle:
I think that something similar happens to our psychic muscles. They cramp around our wounds – the pain from our childhood, the losses and disappointments of adulthood, the humiliations suffered in both – to keep us from getting hurt in the same place again, to keep foreign substances out. So those wounds never have a chance to heal. Perfectionism is one way our muscles cramp. In some cases we don’t even know that the wounds and the cramping are there, but both limit us. They keep us moving and writing in tight, worried ways. They keep us standing back or backing away from life, keep us from experiencing life in a naked and immediate way.
I struggle with perfectionism. You’d never know it to see me or speak to me, but that’s because I tend to hide it well. I also default to “if it can’t be perfect, there’s no point in trying,” so people rarely see my perfectionism in practice. This “go big or go home” attitude is both ridiculous and immensely unfair to myself.
When I read this, I immediately recognized myself and many of my issues with moving forward with art. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I used to aspire to being an artist – studying art, doing art daily, etc. But, I let life get in the way and eventually found that my skills had diminished and I’d lost my path. Being a perfectionist, my reaction to this was to become despondent and to assume that there was no hope. So, I turned to other creative endeavours, especially hobbies that looked easy enough and still allowed some room for creativity. But, I was never satisfied and I could never stop thinking about how I had always wanted to be an artist.
While the book didn’t leave much of an impression on me, this paragraph did because it became the catalyst that started to move me forward. I started to sketch more (now daily, where possible), I started to look for and take art classes, I started to evaluate what I needed (and wasn’t getting) from the art classes I was taking, and I started to remember how great it was to make art. So, I guess the book had it’s intended effect on me. Sure, I’m not planning on quitting and heading to art school, nor am I interested in becoming a professional artist. But, I make art, I aspire to learn more, and I finally feel comfortable calling myself an artist again.