It’s raining, yesterday was A Day, and I’m exhausted. So instead of doing what I should—writing any of my WIPs or doing book reviews—I’m here drinking my coffee and blogging.
This is hard to admit, but when it comes to my writing, my perfectionism kicks into high gear. That is not to say I’m a “perfect” writer; far from it. What I mean is that I have a tendency to cave to my anxieties and believe that absolutely nothing, no matter how hard I try, will be good enough on an interpersonal level.
It’s never about the actual words on the page or the characters or the plot. It’s always, always, always about whether or not I’ve “perfectly” represented some particular thing. Sometimes this isn’t even a large part of the story. Most often, it’s an aspect of a character’s identity.
There is no such thing as a perfect novel or perfect representation. Almost no matter what we do, someone will have issue with it. I’ve seen people criticized for writing about their real-life experiences, both because someone felt that narrative was “overdone” and because they felt it was “incorrect.”
There will always be people on both sides of any situation, with nearly anything for which a person can be marginalized in our society. It’s unnecessary (and I would argue does more harm than good) to self-righteously insist one’s personal preference be the yardstick.
That’s not to say there can’t be terrible representation or wonderful representation. Only that most falls somewhere in the middle, and we need to be careful when addressing it that we aren’t invalidating someone’s lived experience or need for validation in their books in the process. This is different from when people who are part of a marginalized group repeatedly explain to those who are not that what they’re doing is harmful. I’m specifically talking about #OwnVoices work here and whose narrative is allowed to be put forth.
When I read the “you should always/you should never/you should stop doing XYZ,” it flips a switch in me. I go from feeling like I can put myself into my work to believing that my experiences are “incorrect” and not worthy of appearing on page because they fit too neatly into a “problematic” narrative. Instead of being allowed to explore healing through my art, I feel as though I have to quite literally change who I am in order to be accepted—to pretend these are not parts of my life.
To be honest, it’s also reminiscent of the type of interpersonal perfectionism which is rampant in evangelical Christianity, too, only they usually call that “sin.” It’s a level of nit-picking which is really more about personal preference than anything which does actual damage. This is the voice of my trauma, the way in which I was led to believe that who I am is so broken that I’m lucky “God” was willing to glance my way.
I’m trying to let go of that type of perfectionism. Of course I’ll still work to listen and understand, particularly when it comes to identities apart from my own. However, I also need to give myself permission to write about my life and feelings, free of “thou shalt nots.” I think in leaving the door open, I will also be able to extend more grace to others about their work.