Perfection vs. Process / by Deidra Dallas


On a recent trip, I found the magnet pictured here:

As soon as I saw it, although it was not clearly a souvenir of the city I was visiting, I knew I had to buy it for my older brother because it so perfectly encapsulated us

If you know me, you’ll know that I am a meticulous planner. Obnoxiously so. For an event happening three weeks in advance, I will already have a detailed timeline and to-do list prepared. If you tell me to be somewhere on the hour, I will start pacing in my house 30 minutes prior because I’ve been ready since the hour before and have run out of things to do to occupy my time so I don’t arrive an hour early. (Early is on time, after all.)

My brother and I both have this same gene. When my grandmother died two years ago, I called him at 2:00am to let him know, and we immediately began multiple lists, organized by person and activity so that we had a game plan we could attack as soon as he arrived in Texas. 

This type of planning calms us. It allows us to be in control of situations so that we can be assured we won’t have to stress about things going wrong. In fact, we have already planned out all of the worst case scenarios so that we know exactly what we will do in case of something unexpectedly going awry. We were stage managers of theatrical productions for a reason.

I know this irritates a lot of people. I have driven many a colleague to distraction requesting their extra-curricular schedule for the entire year so that I could plan my activities around theirs. (I was just trying to be considerate so all kids could participate in all things!) My best friend often chooses not to fill me in on all the details, just because she thinks it’s good for me not to have everything planned out to the second in my life. (I do not like admitting that she’s probably correct…)

But here’s the thing that is super baffling -- I’m not that way when I write. I never have been. Creative, academic, whatever kind of writing you can think about, I don’t pre-plan it. 

I despise outlines. DESPISE. Whenever I was assigned an outline in school, I would write my paper first and then go back and fill in the outline. I understand the concept of them -- I taught them to my own students. But my brain doesn’t work that way when it comes to writing. 

Instead, you would find me eating lunch alone in the cafeteria at college with a far off look in my eyes while I talked to myself and all of the reading I had filed away in my head. I doodled a very informal outline on napkins or the edges of notebooks, but you would never catch me willingly using Roman numerals to organize information. 

Art isn’t about precision or perfection.

I had forgotten that I am this way when I write creatively, since it has been so long since I’ve attempted the task. I have been languishing a little on my novel, and it wasn’t until I re-plotted the whole thing that I realized why. 

I was trying waaaaaaaay to hard to make my characters do what I wanted them to do. They had other agendas. Sure, I have a rough outline because how else would I keep track of what exactly this novel is supposed to be about? But I have had to make myself let go of sticking to it precisely. 

Because art isn’t about precision or perfection. Art is about the release of raw emotion and thought. Art is about giving yourself over to all of the scary things in your head and letting them drive the wheel for a little bit. Art is about getting over yourself. 

So, my best friend will be very glad to hear that I am learning to let go of a little control. Just a little. I do still have a white board with a plot diagram meticulously filled out sitting beside me, but I don’t let it dictate how many chapters I have to have. 

I let the unexpected happen. I trust the process. I’ll work on perfection in proofreading.