On Monday I blogged about the Japanese tradition of Wabi Sabi – the art of appreciating beauty in an imperfect world. Novelists should embrace the concept of wabi sabi. For writers who strive to create the perfect sentence are not only likely to fail but drive themselves nuts in the process.
Anne Lamott in her excellent book ‘Bird by Bird’ extols the virtues of ‘writing a shitty first draft’ and I applaud her for it. Write the story that is buzzing around in your head, capture those characters, their voices and their hopes and fears. Don’t worry about the story arc or a particular character’s journey. Don’t try to craft the perfect sentence, scene or chapter. Just write the story. Capture its essence, it’s heart. If you love it, others will too.
The rest will come on the second run through and countless edits but if you write with the handbrake off and let the story explode out of your head and through your fingers and on to the screen or page if you write longhand, the spirit of the story will shine through.
When you come to start the edits try to get the concept of the perfect sentence out of your head. We all want to write the best books we can but if you get hung up on the little details you will find the editing process a constant source of frustration instead of the joy it can become as we see our book grow with each change and rewrite.
You need to do enough to shape the book into all it can be but not so much that you deaden the writing and lose the essence of what you worked so hard to capture in the first place. It’s a delicate balancing act but one worth pursuing and far more worthwhile than wasting your time and energy chasing the perfect sentence.
If such a thing as the perfect sentence exists and one day you create it you can allow yourself a moment’s pride. But remember a perfect sentence does not make a novel. It’s the thousands of other imperfect sentences that will make the difference. Novels are wabi sabi and that’s okay by me.
Perfection is hard to attain and impossible to sustain so for those who pursue it we are constantly setting ourselves up for failure. What is it about giving ourselves permission to be less than perfect that we struggle with? Is it the fear of being judged by others? That niggling doubt that everyone is better than us so we must therefore try harder?
Being a perfectionist is exhausting. You are caught in a never ending loop of striving to achieve whether it be the perfect outfit, the perfect house, holiday or job. Take your pick. A perfectionist can drive themselves nuts arranging a bunch of flowers quickly forgetting the beauty of the individual blooms, focusing only on their own inability to get the flowers to look ‘just right’. Chances are anyone visiting would see the flowers and think how wonderful they looked but our own perception is forever skewed by the battle we had arranging them. We beat ourselves up for not achieving our own ridiculously high standards.
The moments when perfection is attained are so brief that the pleasure we derive from them is fleeting. How much better it would be if we could learn to find harmony and beauty in the less than perfect. It’s okay to strive for perfection but how much better it would be to take pleasure in something even if it falls a little short.
Perfectionists would be wise to study the Japanese tradition of Wabi Sabi – the art of appreciating beauty in an imperfect world. It embraces three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished and nothing is perfect (Richard Powell – Wabi Sabi Simple).
The much loved but chipped vase is wabi sabi. The plant that refuses to be symmetrical is wabi sabi. You and I are wabi sabi.
So instead of trying to make everything bend to our will, propagating our own particular brand of perfectionism why not step beyond the confines of the perfect. Life is wabi sabi and always will be so we may as well get used to it. How much easier it would be to live in harmony with an imperfect world by appreciating it for what it is instead of disliking it for what it isn’t and never will be.