helen-louise (baratron) wrote,

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On Perfectionism, and how it stifles Creativity.

I am a perfectionist. Like so many of my traits (good as well as bad), I could blame this entirely on my mother. I've certainly inherited some really interesting broken brain wiring from her. To what extent it's genetic and to what extent it's learned behaviour, I don't know. But it is interesting - in its sheer brokenness.

When I was younger, I lived in a house with CHAOS going on - Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome. Our house was always such a mess that if I wanted to have friends from school or Guides round, it would take 3 days of frantic tidying plus stuffing of things into random other rooms and locking the door. My room was, of course, immaculate - I was the only teenager in existence ever to have a tidy bedroom, because it was my way of rebelling against the mess and staying sane. You might be surprised for me to then explain what a perfectionist my mum was. If she was a perfectionist, why did we live in CHAOS?

The thing is, from somewhere, she acquired this wiring that if you can't do something properly, it's not worth doing at all. She would spend so long on things that didn't need that amount of time put in that she never had time to do anything else. An example are the meals she made - I never remember her bunging stuff together out of packets, any home-cooked meal was cooked entirely from raw ingredients. And thus, they would take time. Then there was the art of arranging the food on the plate for perfect presentation, and setting the table carefully - none of these things need to take much time, but they did. Then there were the truly self-destructive tendencies, like not trusting the dishwasher to wash plates properly so washing everything thoroughly before it even went into the dishwasher. You get some idea how she never had time to tidy the house, perhaps. And also that it wasn't worth her starting to tidy the house because it's not worth doing something unless you can do it properly and get the whole job done.

Now, I live in a house that is messy but organised - it's functional, we know where most things are. I'm still embarrassed when people come round and see all the piles of boxes that we still haven't sorted out from moving, but I've learned not to make myself ill. If someone important is coming, yes, we will frantically tidy up and stuff some things away in the wardrobe or whatever - but it takes an hour, not 3 days. I think I've learned how to prioritise tasks, although I'm not sure how.

Anyway, the thing is - I still have this belief at the back of my mind that it's not worth doing something unless it's going to be perfect, even though I know it's rubbish. And that's why I had writer's block for 10 bloody years - I could never get started, because I knew that whatever I wrote was never going to be as good as my favourite authors, so why even try? Somehow the idea that the only way you can improve is by attempting it and doing the best you can didn't enter my head, let alone the idea that prolific readers need vast quantities of material to read, and if all writing was left to the experts, we'd be continually reading and re-reading the same 20 or 100 books over and over again ;) However, while I'm mostly managing to produce writing that is nowhere near perfect, but good enough, I'm still having trouble applying this principle in other areas. Particularly anything else creative.

So we get onto things like the 400 photos I shot in Sims 2 for ~56 actual pictures, or, even worse, the ~400 photos I shot for 20 actual pictures. Did I need to spend that long? No, probably not - no one outside of my head would have noticed the odd little imperfections in screen angle or oddities in the way the game renders things sometimes. (About 60 of those photos got taken because I took the originals at the wrong time of day and I had to reshoot - like Sims 2 even has good enough lighting for anything other than dawn, midday and dusk to be apparent.) Or the fact that last night I spent 2 hours shooting 7 seconds of video footage. Way to make myself completely stressed out by something I'm doing because, once upon a time, it was fun. And I'm panicking about getting it done "on time", when it doesn't actually have to be finished by the time I show it to the people I'm doing it for anyway, and ... argh.

Please shoot me now.
Tags: introspection

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