Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Though we seek perfection, we must recognize the value in a good flaw, the unintended potential it grants

Flawed yet potentially beautiful.
We all face demands that require near perfection, sometimes even perfection.  Those of us naturally conscientious try hard to meet them.  In fact, we often demand them of ourselves, without an outside force motivating us.  I am a perfectionist, so I can certainly sympathize with those who demand it of themselves and others.  But the writing of a draft should never fall victim to this expectation.

To avoid binding myself by those unreasonable demands, I remind myself that humanity is strong because of its imperfections.  Flaws offer opportunity, diversity and adaptability which is a necessary ingredient for survival and for an author's creativity.  I cannot possibly count the times a flaw in my writing or a student's has opened up a new aspect of a story's conflict, a character's motivation or an image that adds new light to the matrix that makes up a story or poem.

I love to tell my students of one of my long-graduated, creative writing students who had not made much effort in her regular English classes to gain skills in punctuation and diction.  She wrote several poems and submitted them for our first workshop.  Of course, as her teacher, I was familiar with her faults having combated them for years.   But her peers were not.

The first day we reviewed her work was comical.  Several diction issues cropped up.  Her peers, whose feedback was provided before I wrapped up the review, took her diction choices at face value and tried to make sense of them.  They offered advice on how to tighten the images she was casting.  They suggested ways to connect these unusually phrased constructs creatively together.  I watched in my silence her increasing concern.  As a student receiving feedback, she was not allowed to defend or explain her choices.  I knew she was trying to figure out if she should admit that spelling and comma placement had made a mess of her original intents for the poems.

It was a definite struggle as her peers had found complexities in the writing that had not naturally been there.  They had offered valuable advice based on misunderstandings that had come out of her word choice (and the unfortunate assistance of Word's spellchecker).  Honesty and the intrinsic humor of the student won out, and she admitted the confusion her writing had created.  She had a good laugh at herself, but she also could not help looking at her poetry in their new light.  The conscientious notes her peers had made on her workshop copies could not disappear, and they were hers to take home, review and consider.

It took another two similarly confused but still highly useful workshops (much of it spent laughing as her fellow writers were more knowing now and found making her strangled diction work as much a game as an effort to bring clarity to rough drafts) to motivate her to make change.  When she graduated, after two years of creative writing class, she told her story to the  students new to the class and those considering taking it.  She admonished them to learn the tools of the trade and not be proud of their lack.   And she laughed at how she learned to find deeper complexity in her work through playing purposely with word choice.

Imperfection at its best and received for its potential can lead to tremendous growth, not just in the work but also in the writer.  Certainly, one should write with the intent to provide text worthy of growth and must start with the best of production, recognizing that the effort will not bring perfect production.

I sit down determined to move what I imagine before my internal eye into words on the screen before me.  Later in the shower, on the treadmill, sitting in the passenger seat on the way to work, the missing bits that develop scenes, dialogues, and crucial interactions between characters slip forward now that room has been made for them.  In my imperfect prose, I can make my way toward perfection, just as my students do daily.  Each flaw offers a moment for consideration of alternatives and growth for the work and the writer.

So write your flawed constructions, traction your prose with the early confusion of imperfect muses, then with patience and consideration, and a good dose of humor, find its near perfection.

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