Friday, February 24, 2006


-Ism's in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon, 'I don't believe in the Beatles, I just believe in me.' Good point there. After all, he was the walrus. I could be the walrus and I'd still have to bum rides off people.
--Matthew Broderick, Ferris Bueller's Day Off

There are a lotta bad -ism's in the world, but one of the worst is commercialism--no, wait, now I'm channeling that kid Alfred from Miracle on 34th Street.

I meant, perfectionism. It's not as bad as fascism or communism or fundamentalism, but it can ruin the chance to be spectacular.

Take Sasha Cohen. At the '02 Salt Lake City Olympics and ever since, she's been on the prowl for perfection. When she bobbled one element in a performance, she would let it destroy her entire program. Nothing but the gold was good enough. The portrait the media painted of her was one of extreme seriousness, and I wondered if she still found joy in her life's work.

She went into last night's long program with a slight lead over Irina Slutskaya, the gold medal favorite. It was obvious Cohen was tight: she fell several times during warmup, and the look on her face as she approached the center of the ice was one of doubt and fear. We all knew it was over before it started (and not because it had actually taken place 6 hours before).

Sure enough, she fell on the first two jumps, and it looked like Cohen's long program would turn into a disaster. The gold medal--probably the entire podium--was out of reach. No one would blame her for sleepwalking through the rest of her routine, mournful and resigned.

But then something amazing happened. Rather than give up, she pulled herself together and completed her program with breathtaking brilliance, turning an athletic competition into a work of art. Perhaps she thought she was only skating for pride now, that her medal hopes had died. But her courageous performance garnered her a silver medal, after other skaters couldn't rise above their own mistakes.

As soon as she missed those early jumps, as soon as the quest for perfection ended, Cohen set herself free. With nothing to lose, she had everything to gain. I hope she cherishes that silver medal, because it represents the most important triumph of all--the one over her own demons.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, as you know, I'm revising my outline for Voice of Crow per my editor's request. It's due on Wednesday. I have the basic plot figured out, but I'm trying to flesh out the theme and conflicts.

Because I don't just have to sell myself to readers, librarians and booksellers. I have to sell myself to my publisher. If they think VOC is going to kick ass, they'll put more enthusiasm behind Book 1, Eyes of Crow. So this proposal isn't just a hoop I have to jump through in order to get the second part of my advance check for Book 2. It's also an opportunity to impress my publisher, the one who can make my first publishing experience happy or miserable.

No pressure there, right? Why must I always raise the stakes to a do-or-die level? Does it really raise my performance or just my blood pressure?

Today I'm going to try to forget how important this stupid outline is, and just lose myself in the love of the story, let my intuition and imagination take me where they want to go. Forget all my publisher's expectations and guidelines and just ask the question:

"Wouldn't it be cool if....?"

Because in the end that's what fiction's all about. It's not about each word ending up in the perfect place, because there is no such thing. (For instance, I'm not even sure I've conceived a coherent argument in this post; I think I've spoken for both sides and possibly a third or fourth side, too. But oh well.)

Perfectionism, with all its empty promises of self-acceptance, can freeze the imagination until it's as cold and insensate as Olympic ice. Don't let it happen to you today. Just write, dammit.



Oh I hope you take your own advice.


Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 2/24/2006 5:31 PM

Phhft! Yeah, right. Who does that?

Posted by: Blogger Jeri at 2/24/2006 6:39 PM

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