Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Permission to fail

by Rick Blechta

I’ve been in the perfectionist business for most of my life, that is, I’m a musician by training and natural inclination. The main goal in music, no matter what the genre, is to attempt to express yourself perfectly. Or at least it’s that way for any musician who is serious about the gig.

I’m not one of those players who agonizes over it. Do I disappoint myself? Nearly always. I don’t remember the last time I played something absolutely perfectly — in other words on every level, I could not have played something better. Was it as good as Mozart or Beethoven (or a myriad of other musical geniuses) could have done? Absolutely not! But it was the best that I could do within the limits of my talent.

So, every time I play anything, I have hopes that this might be a perfect rendition, even if it’s just a major scale. The main idea is to get as close as one can and certainly play something well enough so that only tiny flaws remain — the kind no one but me would notice. I can accomplish that on occasion.

I often wish I hadn’t, but I brought that mindset to writing. I want to be perfect. I try to be perfect and my editors and copy editors help in that quest. I micro-edit to the nth degree and the only way I would stop is because I’ve been given a carved-in-stone deadline. Almost as important to me as trying to achieve perfection is not missing a deadline. Again that was something pounded into me by my music teachers: Never be late to a gig or show up without everything you need, period!

So writing novels for me can be very stressful, especially at the end of the process. There’s not a single manuscript I’ve turned in that doesn’t have typos, bad word choices, little awkward bits that have somehow escaped scrutiny. We all know they’re there.

What is really depressing is when I read some of my deathless prose after a number of months have elapsed, when time has brought clarity. It usually happens when I have to do a reading and I’m looking for just the correct passage to share. I’ll read something and it just goes clang. My usual quip is to say, “Who snuck in there when I wasn’t looking and added that horrible sentence to my novel?” Sure, it gets a laugh (even if it’s just from me), but the truth is, I failed, and that bothers me.

I’ve been known to edit reading passages I’ve selected — sometimes on the fly — correcting those little things that bother me. Fortunately, I’ve never been faced with a person in the audience reading along with me in a copy of the book. I can imagine them saying, “Wait a minute! That’s not what’s written in my copy!”

The thing is I’ve finally become more comfortable with the inevitable failures. I’ve given myself permission to have missed things, made poor word choices, written some bad sentences. I have to remind myself sometimes that I’ve done this, but I’m getting better at remembering that. I’m not going to beat myself up for mistakes. I will regret them, yes, but I’ve learned to forgive myself.

Except when playing music.

1 comment:

Karel said...

"To err is Human, to forgive; Devine"