Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

Taken from http://heartofthematteronline.com/confessions-of-a-recovering-perfectionist/

As a writer, I’ve been encouraged to strive for that ever elusive idea of ‘perfection’ in my writing. I’ve been taught that every word should be viewed as valuable, every sentence re-worked until the least offensive combination of words was found. This, in and of itself is not a problem. As a teacher, I encourage my students to strive for creativity, and to re-work bits of their assignments that don’t fit, or could use some attention. I never mention perfection though. I’ve seen too many students get stuck on that idea and not let go. I’ve seen Perfection squash Creativity, both in my students and myself.

Through high school and college I thrived on the idea of perfection. The ‘A’ was the main goal for me. I wanted to please my teachers and my parents by showing them that I could obtain my desire of performing well as a student. I defined myself through the grade, through the praise that I received, or didn’t receive from others. I began to notice a problem with this thinking my senior year of high school, but I couldn’t name it. I just knew there was something wrong with my thinking. When asked to write creatively for a class, I would choke. What did the teacher want me to write about? What topic would impress? What formula would earn me that ‘A’ or that pat on the head that said yes, I had talent, and yes, I was ‘creative’ or a ‘good student.’

It was not until my senior year of college that I found out how destructive these thoughts could be. I had a fantastic scriptwriting professor who met with me and told me frankly that my work lacked spirit. She said I was doing everything ‘right’ as far as the form went. I met the page requirement. My scenes flowed well, and were stylistically quite good, but the content lacked heart. This was a huge blow to me at that point. The thing I’d been striving for, what I most wanted, I’d achieved. I was, as a student, ‘quite good’ but my art lacked passion. It lacked reality, and most importantly, lacked heart. What seemed like a harsh criticism at the time turned into one of the most beautiful blessings the Lord has used to shape me as an artist.

I went away from that meeting determined to find the ‘right’ way to do my art. What followed was a search for a graduate program where I could prove myself. I wanted to become a writer who was not just good stylistically, but one that could move an audience to tears by her words (Can you tell I don’t learn quickly sometimes?).

Fast-forward to graduate school. The same issues kept coming to the surface. I was a ‘safe’ writer, a mechanically adept writer, but one who was not willing to let their heart onto the paper. My professors kept telling me to tap into the life-source of the story and write about my characters’ emotions, their fears, their joys. That was the problem. I didn’t want to get that deep into a character because to go that deep meant admitting that I myself had fears, issues, sin, doubts. It meant letting go of the idea of perfection and allowing the imperfect to show through. I was not ready to do that…until my last year of graduate school.

I had a professor who took extra time with me that year. He saw something in me that I didn’t. He forced me to really look at my characters and he helped me shape them from ‘nice character molds with snappy dialogue’ into characters who weren’t perfect, who didn’t always say the right thing, who had a back-story, and a chance to make good or bad decisions. He helped me add depth to my shallowly crafted work.

I discovered that ‘perfection’ in writing was not possible. Yes, I needed to work hard, craft, and re-craft scenes, and sentences, but I didn’t need to be a slave to being ‘right’ all the time. I’m not right. I’m imperfect. That knowledge set me free as a writer. As a Christian artist, my Savior, Jesus Christ, is my model of perfection, heart, passion, spirit, and joy. I need to strive to please Him, not other people, not myself. It is only through Him am I set free from the burden of worldly ‘perfection.’

Do I still struggle? Oh yes. Do I still fall back on my people pleasing? Yes. But my God is faithful. He is calling me to Him, showing me His love, His forgiveness, His art, His passion. I cannot be the artist He calls me to be, the writer He wants me to be until I let go and let Him work through me. That is what I encourage my students to do. I want their best, but their best should not be to please me, but to bring glory to their Creator. Pressure to be ‘perfect’ by the world’s standards stunts creative growth, and does not allow for the growth that can come from recognizing that only through ‘imperfection’ can we see the Glory of the Perfect King of Heaven.

Alysha was homeschooled from birth to high school graduation. She joined Heritage Classical Study Center, a non-traditional school in 2002 and Artios Academies in 2004. She graduated from Heritage and Artios in the spring of 2006. She went on to Covenant College where she majored in English with a concentration in Theatre, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2010. For her senior thesis at Covenant, Alysha wrote and directed an original adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, in which the themes of Love, Grace, and Salvation were prevalent. She started teaching at Artios Academies in 2010, and returned to the academic world in 2011. Alysha has completed the requirements for a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. Alysha’s love of Story fuels her desire to learn more about her Savior through the medium of the written word. It is her hope to ignite the same passion in her students. She believes literature is an incredible medium in which one may explore the underlying current of man’s rebellion and the Creator’s fierce love for His wayward children.

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