Recently, I did a bit of home handyman work. My wife had asked me to fix the door to a built-in cabinet. The door really wasn’t the problem; the frame it was hung from had rotted away. Somewhere in our house’s checkered past, water must have gotten in, or something. I rebuilt the frame and re-installed the door. I did, by any objective measure, a crappy job. But it was good enough. The cabinet is usable. I could move on.
Compare that attitude with my perspective on writing. I agonize over every sentence. I am certain that every page is terrible. It pains me to show my work to my critique group. I grind away at stories until I’m sick of them, hate them, hate what I’m doing, and make myself depressed.
Why do I find it difficult to write something that’s “good enough?” Why can I not be satisfied with that standard?
Recently, one of my coworkers said, “You’re kind of a perfectionist, aren’t you?” I admitted that it was true. But clearly, as the cabinet example shows, not in everything. Pretty much every home repair or woodworking job I’ve ever done has been mediocre at best (there is one notable exception). Why am I willing to accept that, while I beat myself up for falling short of perfection in writing?
I think it’s because I’m supposed to be good at writing, but I’ve never had any expectation that I was good at handyman stuff. When I set out to do any kind of home repair, I expect that mediocre is the best I can do. With writing, I know that I have talent and skill, so I demand too much of myself.
Maybe it’s time I scaled back my expectations for my writing.