One of my favorite musicians is a perfectionist. I know this because, in my sporadic attempts to be a dedicated fan, I spent some time reading this musician’s comments about one of his albums. He described himself as a perfectionist musician, then stated his work was never finished, only abandoned.
The terminology caused me to pause. It sounded familiar because of my acquaintance with some of Paul Valery‘s work, but the phrase still didn’t quite compute; at least, not at first. Abandoning a project can suggest quitting, and I’m no quitter. I often stick with a job or project long after the job or project should be relinquished. I don’t like to quit. I don’t like to fail.
I found myself pondering the phrase as I considered my work habits and strategies for coping with my perfectionism. I came to the conclusion I do abandon projects. The abandoning began as an attempt to control my out-of-control editing habits: I was the person who had to be told to stop editing. I had to put a limit on how many times I could edit a piece. My perfectionism was that bad. It still could be if not for the concept of abandoning projects.
I think the idea gained momentum in graduate school. I wrote poetry for workshops; I wrote poetry for form and theory classes; I wrote papers and prepared presentations for literature classes; and I wrote content for websites and print materials at my job. When workshop, classes, and work overlapped, I had to learn how to write and to keep writing. I couldn’t obsess for days and days about a poem or a paper or a website. I had a deadline to meet. I had to leave a poem or paper in favor of the next poem or paper. I began to abandon poems and papers in order to focus on what was next.
That isn’t to say I don’t review my work. I do. I still obsess about lines and word choice and punctuation marks. If I’m honest, though, I rarely re-read the work I publish on this site or my Tumblr blog. To do so is to enter dangerous territory. It’s a territory filled with bogs and meandering paths that lead nowhere. Once a work is published, it’s published. It’s time to move onto the next thing. It doesn’t do any good to worry about the work. Yes, I’ll review it based on feedback I receive, but I won’t dwell on it. I will make the necessary alterations to the work – if they’re in keeping with what I am attempting to accomplish with a particular poem or post – then I will abandon it. It’s the only way to get things done when I’m a perfectionist.
Photo: Nic Stage (CC BY NC SA 2.0)