In Praise of Imperfection

Next month our family will be moving across the country for a new job in a new state. That means putting the house up for sale and keeping it looking as perfect as possible for potential buyers.

This isn’t our first move, but I had forgotten how crazy-making it is to chase that level of perfection in a house with three kids and a dog. It means nagging everyone to pick up wet towels and renegade socks. It means constantly wiping smudges off the refrigerator and crumbs off the counter.

Not that I don’t do a fair amount of that anyway, but it’s reached obsessive levels, serving up a painful reminder: this isn’t how we live. It isn’t us. The house may look like a magazine (except for the secret dings and stains we’ve done a good job of hiding), but it’s a photo shoot, a moment in time, an expertly crafted illusion. It’s all-consuming, eating up our time, energy, and peace of mind.

There is no such thing as perfection. Not in life, not in writing. I know this.

We all know it.

But how do we put that knowledge into practice? How do we let go of the crazy in favor of the joy and peace that comes with accepting limitations?

I recently received galley copies of MOTHMAN’S CURSE, my debut novel, the dream I’ve been chasing for a decade or more. And all I could do was obsess over its flaws, both real and imagined.

When I caught myself doing it, I was horrified. My fear of imperfection was sucking the joy out of what should have been a milestone moment. Worse, I realized that unless I changed my outlook, my worries about “getting it wrong” would overshadow the entire journey, all the way up to the launch date and beyond.

Life is messy. Houses get cluttered. Words on the page don’t always sound as good as they did in our heads, even after a couple of rewrites (or ten or twenty). It’s okay, it really is. We learn and grow along the way. We get better. We teach each other. We take the risk, open our hearts, and send our words into the world.

With any luck, someone will think those words are pretty perfect just the way they are.

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ChristineHayesauthorpicChristine Hayes writes spooky stories for middle grade readers. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, is due out June 16, 2015 with Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

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10 Comments

Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, ARCs, craft~writing

10 responses to “In Praise of Imperfection

  1. It’s a good question: With a manuscript, when are you making something better and when have you moved to wiping smudges off the frig, nagging the dog and obsessing all the joy out of the process? I’m going to think about this. Thanks for the thoughts. And best of luck with the move.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I appreciate these words this morning, what a great analogy, to compare the staged house (I, too, have a staged house at the moment as we try to sell it) to the writing life. And in this season of perfect bows and perfect dinners and perfect families on the front of perfect cards, I appreciate the reminder that we’re all imperfect. We can edit towards perfection, but at some point, we can let go and allow ourselves to step into a new story. The ones I let go may not be perfect, but if they can touch a few lives, brighten a few eyes, it’s all good.

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  3. I could totally see myself opening the finished product of my book and thinking- That sentence sucks! It needs to be changed…eep, too late. =) I imagine trying to not get sucked into that sort of anxiety would be difficult. Love your last thought in this post though!

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  4. Oh, Chris, I feel your pain. I’m sure everyone who reads your post will. There is no perfection. Only a perfect-for-now. As writers, our craft and sensibilities are constantly evolving. Between submitting the final manuscript and seeing the book in print, that writerly DNA could change and we might look at our work with different eyes. It’s natural to be your own worst critic. I assume that’s why actors and actresses don’t watch their own movies.
    For what it’s worth, I love the cover of MOTHMAN’S CURSE (see sidebar) and I can’t wait to read the book when it finally comes out. Good luck with the move!

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  5. mariagianferrari

    A perfect response about imperfection, and opening our hearts, and letting go. Flaws are what make us and our characters interesting! Thanks, Christine!

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  6. Oh, this resonates with me in so many ways. I can’t WAIT to read MOTHMAN’S CURSE!! And good luck with the move!

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  7. Wonderful words for me, Chris. And I love Donna’s “Only a perfect-for-now.” in her comment. That’s a good way to look at it.
    I’m looking forward to your book!

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  8. I need this post today and every day. Gotta stay in the joy; can’t get sucked into the muck. Or, like you said, it would overshadow the entire journey. Thanks, Christine. Can’t wait to read MOTHMAN’S CURSE.

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  9. tamaraellissmith

    This is so so helpful for me too right now, Chris. Perfection is out there, far away from feet on the ground right here, right now. But joy (mixed with a little anxiety and fear!) is right between the toes… I forget that so often. Thanks for the reminder…

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  10. kevanjatt

    I’ve been sitting with the FnGs of my book for a month or two now and though I am thrilled about it and it’s release next month, I’ve also found a handful of things in the art that I can’t believe I didn’t fix. I’m agonizing over something I’m certain no one else will ever notice. Thanks for your post!

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