Monthly Archives: September 2017

Embracing Imperfection

by Robin Constantine

A few months ago I attended a local Paint Nite with my sister. If you’re not familiar with Paint Nite, the skinny is this: A group of people get together at a local restaurant/bar & grill to drink adult beverages and follow along with an instructor to paint a masterpiece of their own. Sounds kind of fun, right? To be honest, my inner teen rebelled at the idea. Organized frivolity? Um, totally cringey. Older, wiser me wanted to simply create without judgment and chill. Something I rarely, if ever, allow myself to do.

On the Paint Nite website, you can type in your zip code and find events near you that feature paintings of varying degrees of difficulty. My sister and I agreed on a picture called “Let Your Light Shine” and paid our entry fee. We arrived about half an hour early, ordered up some sauvignon blanc from the bar and picked out our work space. Two seats, close to the front, so we could have a good view of the painting we were going to recreate.

Voila.

Easy, right?

Once we figured out how to tie our green artist aprons, we were given small palettes with splotches of red, blue, and black. (White and yellow came later.) The instructor turned up the classic rock, picked up her thickest paintbrush and launched right into masterpiece creation 101. Staring at my own blank canvas was daunting. I hesitated before committing to mixing a background color. I’m a perfectionist, so I really wanted to match the color of the original, even though the instructor was all about putting your own stamp on it.

We all know what perfection does to creation, right? In the words of the inimitable Ginger Spice … (via Brainyquote.com):

Yep. Paint Nite was bringing out that creative demon that relishes reminding me my work is, well, imperfect trash. This was supposed to be fun, and there I was fretting over “getting it right.” I took a sip of wine and forged ahead. We only had so much time for each section of the picture before we had to wave our canvases over our head in time with the music to help the paint dry faster. (cue inner teen eye roll) My background wasn’t exact, but it would have to do … then onto the branches.

Again, I fretted about the color, the thickness of the branches, the shape of the leaves. Who did I think was going to see this? It’s not as if I was gunning for The Frick Collection, but to that part of me that has trouble letting go and enjoying the process, it felt like I was. At one point, while the ladies next to me enthusiastically belted out “Living on a Prayer” and painted with a careless fervor I secretly envied, my fist clenched with artistic angst.

Why am I so uptight?

It’s a question I ask myself all the time during first draft. I envy those writers who say first draft is their favorite part of the process. Mine is revision — that’s when I play. For me there’s something very freeing about having words on the page. First drafts make me nervous — a blank canvas. Instead of getting excited about all the possibilities, I focus on the million different ways I could screw it up. Older, wiser, l’artiste moi, KNOWS it’s about the journey. That part of the fun of creation is the discovery. When had I lost that playfulness?

This is what no one tells you.

Under deadline, it’s difficult to be playful and appreciate the journey.

It’s not impossible, of course. I’ve done it — hit that gorgeous time-bending sweet spot when the writing comes effortlessly and you look up and four hours have passed. Some days, though, it feels like a race against the clock to hit a word count. I know that sounds clinical and devoid of joy but sometimes it’s also necessary. While the creative demon of perfectionism can be oppressive at times, it fuels me to produce, makes me strive to work harder, take risks, and meet deadlines. There’s a fine line between being driven by your demons and being defeated by them. I’ve learned to embrace the struggle, but it’s an ongoing process. I didn’t think it would rear its gnarly head at Paint Nite though.

I’ll admit to gritting my teeth as I tried to get the exact curvature of the hanging mason jars. The final touch was the words on the jars and the fireflies surrounding the trees. The instructor encouraged us to use a different phrase or names of family members. I had to take a few deep breaths, allow myself to relax — going off book? Gah!! I liked the simple “Let Your Light Shine,” so I stuck with that. After I was finished, I peeked at the canvas of one of the women who’d been singing and laughing while she painted. It looked nothing like the original picture. The colors were off. The mason jars were ROUND! She’d put her kids initials on each jar! And yet, it was still beautiful and most definitely her own.

Here is my finished product … be nice. 😉

On our way out of the bar, we passed a table of people who were just finishing up their dinner. They were curious about all the laughter they’d heard in the back room and wanted to see what we’d been up to. Some of us passing by held up our canvases. We were greeted with polite smiles and nods. No “Nice” or “Great work.” Just … amused looks. Maybe it was the wine, or maybe it was that feeling of having created something just for enjoyment, but their lack of a positive response didn’t bother me.

In spite of having to tamp down that perfectionist voice several times during the night, I actually had … dare I say it … fun. I like to create without worrying about its worth, to lose myself in play. I had started with a blank canvas and turned it into something that kind of resembled three mason jars hanging from a tree.

A friend of mine once talked about admiring a certain piece of pottery because she could really see the “hand” of the artist in it. I’d never thought of seeing art that way. It turns what might seem clumsy to the eye into something more profound.

Imperfection lets you see the hand in the handiwork.

Imperfection is what makes creative work unique.

Imperfection is you.

Are you a perfectionist with your creative endeavors? How do you deal with it?

That’s Great Advice!

Welcome to the September edition of Ask the Sweethearts! Before we begin: Congratulations to Katrina, a.k.a. Bookish Kat, winner of our Instagram giveaway of Darcy Wood’s Summer of Supernovas! Many thanks to all who entered and to all who follow us on IG!

Now, for this month’s question: What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

Robin Constantine: I love reading craft books and talking to other writers about their process! I’m constantly collecting tips and strategies to improve my writing. It’s hard to pinpoint the best writing advice because I think my needs change with each project. One of my recent favorites comes from Ingrid Sundberg’s vlog — Ingrid’s Notes. Ingrid is the author of the YA novel All We Left Behind, and if you haven’t subscribed to her channel, you should. It’s a virtual treasure trove of writing gems and she is super inspiring! In her vlog post, Creating Your Own Writing Philosophy, she talks about trusting yourself and using what works for YOU, as opposed to thinking there’s only one way to write and if you have problems working that way you’re a failure. I love that! It’s a very freeing way to look at the creative process!

Darcy Woods: I’ve been incredibly fortunate to get great advice from so many generous souls in this industry. “Keep your eyes on your own paper,” has always been a perennial favorite of mine. This simple phrase (that you probably heard on repeat in elementary school) does the job of succinctly reminding writers not to use others’ “success” as a measuring stick for their own. Does it sound easy? Perhaps. But it isn’t. Because it goes against our human nature to compare, which inevitably pulls us down that dark, spiraling suckhole of despair. I think Teddy Roosevelt really nailed it when he said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” So stay joyous! And maybe invest in some horse blinders to wear along the way.

Erin Fletcher: The best piece of writing advice anyone ever gave me went something like this: “If you’re bored writing it, the reader will be bored reading it.” That applies so often when I find myself stuck writing a boring scene where I’m just waiting for the next big thing to happen. Chances are good that my readers (if they haven’t abandoned the book yet!) are waiting too, so why not just jump to that next big thing right now? The advice taught me not to waste my time or my readers’ time. It taught me to include what’s truly important in the book and to let the rest go.

Karole Cozzo: I’ve received so many tidbits of advice over the past few years, all of which has shaped my experiences positively, but I tried to pick something that is extremely practical and hopefully useful to aspiring authors out there: When seeking publication, follow the rules. As an unpublished author, I believed it was “okay” that I was querying YA manuscripts that were around 120k in length. I believed that querying a trilogy was a good thing, because I had more “product” to offer a publisher. I kept running into the wall, hoping an exception would be made for me, even though YA novels are most typically much shorter, and very few agents/publishers are eager to take a chance on ONE book from an unknown, let alone three! I finally achieved success (aka published my first novel) when I told myself: “Okay, you’re going to sit down and work within the framework you know exists. You’re going to write a stand alone novel within the typical word range and start there. You may have other aspirations and ideas, but until you start playing by the rules, they’re not going to let you into the game.” I’m glad I finally listened to this advice I’d heard many times instead of thinking I could work around it when I was so green. And I think it’s important for all hopeful authors to keep in mind when submitting.

Stephanie Scott: This is more editing advice: To get a fresh look at my writing, I load the draft into my ereader where I can’t edit. I have to resist the urge to tweak and fine tune while getting an overview of the story. It also helps to change to a different font for reading than I use for writing to get a new feel for the words. I’ve only just started this, but you can have Microsoft Word read text aloud. Hearing your own words back highlights so many inconsistencies.

Linda Budzinski: “You must have tension on every page.” Early on in my writing training, I took a series of workshops with mystery writer Noreen Wald. She was full of fantastic advice, but this is the gem I remember best, perhaps because she would say it every week, and she’d pound the table with the palm of her hand four times as she said it. “You must have tension on every page.” This advice is critical for mysteries, and it’s true for YA romance as well. A page without tension is lifeless. It fails to engage the reader and pull them along. The tension can be external or internal, but it has to be there. On EVERY page.

What about you? What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received? Share in the comments! xoxoxo