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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Perfectionism: The Turkey in My Studio (And a recipe for Leftover Turkey Chili)

Sigh. Once again I have a turkey problem.

I'm not referring to the tom who periodically patrols the road I take to the grocery store. ( But you wouldn't believe how big - and fierce - a wild turkey can be! Makes me a bit nervous in my little car when he doesn't want me to pass. Okay, practically terrified.)

My turkey's name is Perfectionism. 

And she's roosting on my pile of work-in-progress and keeping me from finishing things!

There is no one size-fits-all way to vanquish the perfectionism problem, any more than there's one perfect strategy for getting past that gobbler on Old Scrubgrass Road (though turning around and taking the long way nearly always works for me). I keep trying different things, and usually something clicks.

Here then, in no particular order are approaches that have helped me in the past and that I'll be trying the next few days:

Accept that I WILL make mistakes - and I can correct them later
I often want to be the sort whose first draft, first submission, first published piece is Just Right.  But then I remind myself that I usually have contempt for the Miss Perfect Pants sorts and feel a Yes! I'll-buy-all-your-books love for those authors whose success is preceeded by struggle.

Truth is I DO learn from my mistakes, and I DO get paralyzed completely by my efforts to be perfect from the start. And I would rather not be Miss Perfect Pants either.

Sometimes I have to read this quote from Mary Pickford (America's sweetheart) to remind myself to try again:

Try to be as nice to myself as I am to my writing buddies
I don't know about you, but I can easily get a tad, um, critical with myself over efforts that don't measure up. And I say things to myself that I would never say to someone in my writing group. Then I have to stop, fix myself a cup of tea, and maybe a little chocolate too - and read these wise words from Anne Lamott:
It does work - notice how I didn't even rewrite this notecard when I screwed up the "n" in "can"?

Bond with a perfectionism pal
Having a partner makes it easier for me to do almost anything I find hard - whether it's exercising, dieting, or being brave enough to take the short route, turkey or no turkey. Reaching out to a friend whose struggle mirrors mine works with my perfectionism too. (I just have to take care to avoid people who have already put perfectionism behind them - too much like having my naturally thin husband as a diet partner - or who are too enabling of my procrastination).

Take smaller bites
Instead of trying to write a whole novel or produce a polished dummy, I try to concentrate on a big manuscript chapter by chapter. Or even paragraph by paragraph. Picture book texts might be word by word! I'll trick myself into staying loose with drawings by using cheap printer paper or post-it notes instead of my expensive sketchbook or by sitting in a coffee shop instead of at my drawing table.

I also use a timer. Work for 15 minutes, then take a five minute break. Then another 15 minutes.

Focus on enjoying the process
The truth is, I mostly LIKE doing my artwork or writing - even when it's not going well. How lucky is it to do for a job what most people have to content themselves with enjoying as a hobby? I'll put on music, stick a flower on the desk, let myself  have fun. And discover yet again that playing is nearly always a good route to creative ideas.

When all else fails, follow Bob Newhart's Two-Word Advice

"STOP it!"

Hee, hee! Works just about every time for me!

Leftover Turkey Chili

After you've vanquished your own turkeys, you can have them for Thanksgiving dinner - and then make this excellent white chili, adapted from a recipe from Lori Benson, a friend in my book club.

2 TBSP olive oil

1-2 medium onions finely chopped

2-3 ribs celery, chopped (optional)

2 3-4 oz can of chopped green chilies (NOT drained)

6 TBSP (3/8 cup) flour

3 cups cooked turkey leftovers (half a rotisserie chicken is also about perfect)

2-3 cans great northern beans (drained and rinsed)

2 tsp of cumin

1 carton of turkey or chicken broth (32 oz)

Shredded cheese

Saute the onion and celery in the oil over medium heat until tender (about 4 minutes).  Add the green chilies and flour. Mix and heat through.  Add beans, broth and seasoning.  Simmer for about 20 minutes until thickened and you've written a couple of paragraphs.  Add the meat.  Heat until warm.  Serve with grated cheese. And popovers or cornbread. And beer.

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