My Struggle with Perfectionism


Do you know your biggest obstacle against creativity? As a writer, perfectionism has kept me from making a good deal of progress. Much is said about Writer’s Block or the phobia of cliches being reasons why we don’t make progress. We rarely address a hidden problem. It’s the idea of striving to write a scene identical to what we see in our heads.

It’s easier to daydream than to write. It takes no effort to hold an image or play out a scene in your mind. Depending on how long it’s been marinating there, we struggle to get it on paper. Nothing on the page can do justice to what we imagine during long nights of insomnia, and this frustrating truth can keep us in a loop—write, rewrite, repeat.

Rewriting is necessary, but how do we know when it’s time to stop? It’s tempting to believe that if we rewrite a scene enough, it will become identical to what we see in our heads. With this myth deceiving us, we don’t notice when it is time to move on to other scenes. At what point do we wind up rewriting so much that we undo the story instead of making progress?

Since the beginning of April, I’ve been working to ensure my series will be finished. A day does not pass when I don’t write a page of backstory. In this ritual I expand on world building, delve into characters, and elaborate on their motives; I work out things readers might never find out, things I as an author must know.

I’ve been using basic legal pads. This makes a difference, because when I use pretty journals I’m afraid to ruin them. Every night I fill a page and store it in a binder. Disciplining myself this way, I have begun to sort through the jungle of my fictional world. A few years ago I confused myself by seeing one book instead of the world, and it was a disaster when the time came for revisions.

These pages of backstory won’t make a novel, but I’ll have a map to follow. Seeing my progress as I gather pages into the binder has made the end more achievable. With the big picture in mind, I don’t focus too much on one chapter; until the series is published, nothing’s set in stone.

There were scenes pining to be written which I ignored by rewriting chapter five over and over again. Perfectionism blinded me to reveals that deserved attention, if only so they would be well-done in the future. First drafts aren’t perfect and we’re not meant to spend all our time on them.

Perfectionism is our friend when it reminds us not to settle for sloppy writing. It becomes the enemy when it stops progress. If years have passed and you can’t move forward but universes continue to expand in your mind, it’s time to reel in that perfectionism.

I’m allowing myself to outline scenes for the second and third novels. They’re not the final breaths on which I’ll tell the story; they’re not perfect. My goal is to have material for editing; these scenes will also help me have an idea of where I’m going. In addition, when I get bold scenes out of my mind, it’s easier to focus on edits.

Every creative medium has its challenges. Have you worked out how to beat yours? Does perfectionism loom over you like it does me? If you have overcome that habit, I hope you can give some advice! Let’s help fill the world with stories by removing blocks from each others’ paths.

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On Robert Frost and the Rise of Poetry


We are fortunate to be living in a time when poetry is once again becoming popular. Instagram poetry is on the rise; it’s easy to post our work for thousands to see. If we learn the use of hashtags and posting times, we can build an impressive following. It is a breath of relief, since there had been a time when many claimed poetry to be dead.

As time changes, so do the poems that define a generation. What we share on social media has a different feel from the poetry of old. It’s designed to grab attention, to stop someone mindlessly scrolling to read a snatch of art. Much of modern poetry bears a minimalist quality. Literature evolves with the people who write it, changing with society.

Sometimes I am nostalgic for classic poetry. I’ve been reading Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe. Last week I focused on Robert Frost, who was considered the first American poet. His most famous piece, The Road Not Taken, is still taught in school. I wanted to go beyond that and learn about the author himself. I wanted to read the lesser-known pieces.

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Robert Frost was born in San Francisco in 1874. His father, William Prescott Frost, Jr., was a journalist; his mother, Isabelle Moodie, a Scottish immigrant. The family hoped his father become a lawyer, but William Prescott Frost had a rebellious spirit. It led him instead to become a teacher, an editor, a politician. After his death in 1885, the family moved to New England, an area that would inspire much of Robert’s poetry.

He discovered poetry at the age of fourteen, and a year later published his first poem in his school newspaper. Though his mother was proud, his grandfather warned him that “no one can make a living at poetry.” Two years after his marriage at the age of twenty-two, Robert tried to please his family by seeking an education in Harvard. He was drawn to philosophy and the classics, but claimed “It wasn’t what I wanted.”

Disappointed in Robert’s artistic ambitions, his grandfather gave him a farm in New Hampshire on such terms that he was committed to it for ten years. Once that time was up, Frost sold the farm and moved to England with his wife, Eleanor. They found a home in Beaconsfield, a little town near rural Buckinghamshire, and lived a comfortable life. During this time, his first two books were published.

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A Boy’s Will and North of Boston were received by the English with great enthusiasm. Of North of Boston, Wilfrid Wilson Gibson wrote, “Mr. Frost has turned the living speech of men and women into poetry…Tales that might be mere anecdotes in the hands of another poet take on universal significance because of their native veracity and truth to local character.”

What makes his work so special? An essay by Mark Van Doren titled The Permanence of Robert Frost explains: “Whether in dialogue or in lyric, his poems are people talking…The man who talks under the name of Robert Frost knows how to say a great deal in a short space, just as the many men and women whom he has listened to in New England and elsewhere have known how to express in the few words they use more truth than volumes of ordinary rhetoric can express.”

Frost returned to America in 1915 to find himself suddenly famous. His books were on sale everywhere, and he was hailed a leader of “the new era in American poetry.” He bought a farm in New Hampshire and lived there for five years. In 1938 he moved to Boston, and later to Cambridge; wherever he went, he took a bit of the land which had captured his heart.

Frost’s poetry crosses many styles and subjects. His focus on farming and field work makes him very much a poet of the people. He has written sonnets and works of lyrical beauty. He has written epics which were adapted into screenplays. I prefer his shorter pieces because they can be memorized; we can take beautiful verses into our own souls to fill idle moments. One such example is the poem Nothing Gold Can Stay:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Robert Frost’s twenty year wait for publication serves to remind us that not even those whose work became classic achieved fame overnight. Some didn’t get published until they were old; others weren’t discovered until after death. An author should never write for the sole purpose of publication. If we do this, we risk writing stories that lack soul. I write more about this in my review of Anne Lamott’s memoir, Bird by Bird.

Literature gives voices to things which normally wouldn’t speak, such as stars or houses. Robert Frost spoke even for ghosts and the forest. In The Sound of the Trees, he gives us a glimpse of their minds—

They are that that talks of going
But never gets away;
And that talks no less for knowing,
As it grows wiser and older,
That now it means to stay.

Skilled poets raise the voice of each gust of wind. They also open our ears so that we, the readers, can understand what the breezes whisper. Poetry is on the rise, and we can expect a new era of poetry worldwide. I am eager to find out which of these new voices will live to be classics.

In the midst of this, let us not forget the poets on whose shoulders we stand. As we breathe life once more into poetry, let us follow them down roads less traveled; only after we learn their ways can we go down paths of our own.

A Place of Light


This is another excerpt from my journal that I would like to share. It needs editing, but I liked it, and hope you will too!


There’s a lot of light in this place.

It’s a haven of pure air and high spirits. It makes me feel like there’s no darkness left in my reality; by this I know it can’t be reality.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Perhaps I’m on a different plane.

It has to be a dream.

I sit on the ground and let it soak in – energy, inspiration, peace. Could this be the place ideas come from?

Could this weightlessness be the root of my inspiration?

Closing my eyes, I search my mind, seeking ideas for my next poem…here in this place of light.

On Storytelling


What does it mean to be a storyteller?

Stories are places of refuge for people frightened by the realities of this world. They provide rest when we are too weak to dwell on reality.

Story is salve for the wounds inflicted by life.

A well-told story comforts us. We seek depth and meaning. We find both in a book.

We are cheered by the thought that the human mind, while capable of terrible things, also brings forth great beauty.

Fiction is a playground for the human imagination, which needs exercise like any other muscle. The storyteller cares for the playground.

We are gardeners charged with planting wonder and safety; these might come in the form of a novel or a poem. This skill is learned through observation and practice.

It is difficult: many of us curse the craft as much as we love it.

Storytelling is not easy, but human beings need story more than they care to admit.

Any garden has to be tended.

The Garden and the Trilogy


Sometimes the cure to Writer’s Block—and to Reader’s Burnout—is to do something else. Some of you might have known that already, but I’ve been stubborn for years, refusing to think myself capable of taking up another hobby with the passion I felt for literature.

Then I took up gardening.

The dining room window looks like a greenhouse; I imagine my books looking on, dejected, as I speak to my cilantro or asters. The books are wondering what could have distracted me so much.

Some of my enthusiasm might stem (no pun intended) from reluctance to finish editing. It’s necessary, I know, but it’s never been my favorite thing. If given the choice between editing or planting a flower…

This doesn’t mean I’ve been neglecting Alice’s novel. I’ve made a great deal of progress since December: I drafted it, made an outline, rewrote it and started edits. The draft is decent. I have even shared it with trusted people.

The reason for this progress is my decision to include logic in my fantasy universe. A year ago I planned dozens of stories with no order for them. There was no way to discern which plot arc was more important.

Now, I’ve divided the story into trilogies, making them easier to keep in order. It’s like taming a jungle or planning a garden. Hopefully the series will be nicer to look at and easier to navigate.

Today, I edit the second-to-last chapter of Alice’s book. After that I’ll put the novel aside and focus on something new. Maybe it’ll be my garden, or maybe I’ll start the second book. After all, too much planning isn’t good, either.

I hope your springtime has been lovely so far!

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway


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This is my first Hemingway novel. It’s a quick read and struck me for being so detached. The writing style seems indifferent by nature, focusing little on the main character’s emotions and more on dialogue.

I don’t know if Hemingway’s writing is like this in other novels. It isn’t bad: the way the main character interacts with others, rarely showing strong emotion even to the woman he loves, gives the settings sheens of gray.

At first I thought Maybe he doesn’t love her as much as he thinks. Later, when his child is born, he feels nothing towards it, not even anger. Maybe it’s the war, and the drinking certainly didn’t help. Whatever the case, it’s a powerful scene, bringing out his inability to feel.

The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.
― Ernest Hemingway

Some criticize Hemingway’s style for being too bare. We know what’s going on from what the characters say to one another. The writing is very minimal, so I could not pick it apart for layers like I have done with Dickens. You’re pulled along by its straightforwardness.

There are different styles for different authors; it’s a reminder that there isn’t a right or wrong way to tell a story. The book is worth a try, keeping in mind that some will enjoy it and others will not.

There were descriptions that plunged me in. You will find and remember them. Overall, I’m glad I read the book. It’s a powerful statement about writing style and the impact it has on a story.

David Copperfield: Escapism and Books


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Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield is, in many respects, autobiographical. Readers see the protagonist in bleak situations, many of which take root in things the author himself experienced–child abuse, poverty, instances when it was difficult to count one’s blessings.

As a reader and writer, the following paragraph stood out to me. It describes Copperfield as a child, seeking refuge from his ill fortune by vanishing into books.

It is astonishing to me now, how I found time, in the midst of my porings and blunderings over heavier themes, to read these books as I did. It is curious to me how I could ever have consoled myself under my small troubles (which were great troubles to me), by impersonating my favorite characters in them–as I did–and by putting Mr and Miss Murdstone into all the bad ones–which I did too.

I’ve written books where my characters were similar to me in some ways, sharing habits or speech nuances. This has always happened by accident. I never sat and told myself this character will like the same music or we will enjoy the same foods. No, these things crept onto the page; later, I found them and smiled.

In the above paragraph, David Copperfield describes escaping dark times by reading books. He became the hero and identified the villains in his life. I wondered if Charles Dickens did this knowingly, to increase the book’s autobiographical nature. Was it strategic, or an accident? Did he later reflect on his character and realize he and Copperfield shared this trait?

Once writers master the art of escapism, we know the skill for life. It becomes a part of us, so when we spin stories of our own, we write ourselves in without meaning to. We don’t notice until later that bits of us have slipped in between the lines.

Excerpts like this show why it’s interesting to learn about the author as well as the book. When you know the circumstances in which they lived, it enhances the experience. It’s why I always read introductions when they are available. Often, when I finish reading, I do research on the setting (time period, customs, etc.)

When you read a good book, there’s more going on than your brain registering words. You’re immersing yourself in a journey through time. You become one with the characters. You might even find that you and the author have things in common–habits, opinions, hurts. Any well-written novel has this power. All you need is a bit of patience to get through longer works.

Find a sliver of spare time, and you will travel far.

With people seeking entertainment elsewhere, I fear the beautiful art of reading might one day be forgotten–the kind of reading that immerses us, escapism. Each form of entertainment has its benefits; however, let’s not overlook the joy that can be found in a book.

Reading is a superpower, and we can all learn to use it. If you haven’t been reading much, find a book and start now. There’s a book for everyone, and best of all, there’s always time.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten


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Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girlsthe book title was clever. I’m not sure what I expected to find once I started reading. This is a good thing. Any book title is used to draw readers in: it makes them want to lift the cover and glance at the first page, where there should be a hook.

This book title was strong bait indeed; it cleared the way for me to be pulled into the page-turner.

Since I have not read many thrillers, I can’t comment on plot devices used. I enjoyed the read, and it made me consider reading more thrillers in the future. This post is not so much a review as it is a musing, my impression as a reader.

How far would you go for revenge? How broken must a person be to pull off the perfect murder? Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls features one of the darkest characters I’ve read; she’s dark in her brokenness.

I believe this would not have been possible if the protagonist, June, had not been such a contrast. Comparison is a powerful way to write a memorable story. Black and white – shadow and light – June and Delia are a dark, sad balance.

They are both struggling. The difference is this: June lacks the nerve to pull off the feats Delia gets away with. June is the follower in this friendship. She is the weakling, though Delia often pretends otherwise. She is a toy to help Delia feel powerful.

June seems designed to grip the target audience, channeling their weaknesses. The author plays with your mind from the moment you see the cover. She’s not finished, though–once you’ve started reading, she uses your insecurities to help you connect with June! Like her, most of us struggle with insecurity. Most of us have a desire to fit in.

As you see, my commentary focuses on the characters. June and Delia are a fantastic example of characters used strategically. June and Delia–opposites attracted to each other, and not a good pair at all.

However, this must be said: June was not always weak. My favorite scenes featured her trying to grow despite the sadness on her shoulders. There were times she stood in the name of friendship to find out what happened to Delia. It helped me remember, as an insecure reader, that nothing keeps me from standing in the midst of a storm except my own fear.

The plot, pace, and characters were arranged so you will remember them. I finished this book in a day, pulled into the atmosphere, the mystery, the struggle. Whether or not you enjoy this book, I promise you won’t forget it.

David Copperfield: Contrast of Summer and Winter


Paragraphs can be so telling. Here, I’m going to compare two passages from David Copperfield that made their way into my reading journal because of their devastating depth.

Here is the first:

When my mother is out of breath and rests herself in an elbow-chair, I watch her winding her bright curls round her fingers and straightening her waist, and nobody knows better than I do that she likes to look so well, and is proud of being so pretty.

David Copperfield’s mother, Clara, was widowed before the birth of her son. The above paragraph shows she has not lost her energy and attractiveness, even when raising a son alone. When David grows old enough to observe, he notices this, but never thinks it will lead to great change. They have a good life, himself, his mother, and the faithful housemaid. What else do they need?

The reader knows better, though, drinking in these sentences. Young David has noticed that his mother is pretty, and that she likes being pretty. He does not realize that she’s open to the idea of finding love again. He doesn’t realize that their peaceful life could change at any moment.

Since he loves his mother in that innocent way in which children love, David notices that she is pretty and happy. He does not think his mother will marry again. He can never predict she will choose a cruel man who will actively work to put out this spark. Mr Murdstone will dull the glow that David notices in his mother; where once she twirled her hair and daydreamed, now she will lack life.

Clara’s new husband will subject both of them to emotional abuse. When David does not behave to Mr Murdstone’s satisfaction, the child is sent to boarding school. He returns to find his mother’s spark is gone, and when she later dies, her pride and will have both been destroyed:

He [Mr Murdstone] drew her to him, whispered in her ear, and kissed her. I knew as well, when I saw my mother’s head lean down upon his shoulder, and her arm touch his neck–I knew as well that he could mould her pliant nature into any form he chose, as I know, now, that he did it.

The paragraphs, placed side by side, tell a devastating story: the destruction of a beautiful person in a cruel way.

Dickens’ words go so far as to change the light in readers’ minds. The first paragraph feels like a summer afternoon, complete with flowers and a warm breeze. Then we find the second, which evokes a feeling of confinement, and I found myself fearing such bleak loneliness.

As a deep thinker, I wonder: who or what inspired Clara’s character?

This is the beauty of old books: they’re relevant. Clara’s story reminded me that, even today, men and women are tricked into cages very much like this.

Though they look dusty on the outside, old books contain the bits of humanity that never vanished, both light and dark. Read them–not because you were told to in school, but because they contain realistic people.

There are books set today, yesterday, and tomorrow. This means that, at any point in time, there will be a story in which someone relates to your struggle. Even if there isn’t a happy ending, this ancient sense of community gives me hope: people fought these battles. There have been losses, such as poor Clara, but there have also been victories.

There is a book for everyone and everything. Find the story you need–it’s out there.

David Copperfield: Intro


david copperfield coverThe Personal History, Adventures, Experience, and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery. This is the original title of Charles Dickens’ eighth novel, published in serial form in the year 1850. Now sold as a 700-page book, it was originally released in 19 monthly one-shilling installments. This makes for a delightfully long story in which even the villains trigger a certain empathy.

Dickens himself called it his favorite among all his novels, and countless readers over the years have agreed; I myself found it to be moving, not only because there wasn’t a dull moment, but his word choice–as usual–took my breath away.

Based on Dickens’ own past, particularly the chapters which describe a troubled childhood, the story immerses you–as any good book should. Even if I had not enjoyed the story, I would have kept reading because of the style in which he wrote. His style is known to be vivid; he forms creative parallels to make readers feel emotions, even those of characters we don’t like.

Reading this book, I felt their anger, love, heartbreak, infatuation–and it took me a long time to finish, because I had the constant urge to stop and jot the paragraphs in my journal. Some scenes were so bold that I sensed I had lived them–they were part of my past–and I had to record them, borrowing words from one who was a master at using them.

As I wrote Dickens’ words, I couldn’t help contemplating them on a deep level, finding poetry between the lines–in the pauses–the things not said. They found new meaning as I took them apart from the rest of the book. I realized that, as a reader, there is little like the beauty of a paragraph: words, black ink, old or fresh, promising a tale, promising a description that our own minds wouldn’t have come up with.

I would like to share a few of the notes I made. In the next few days, I want to show anyone interested what I found beautiful and why I thought it so–not as complex analysis, but because I want to share. Perhaps you will find enjoyment in the passages. Perhaps they will encourage you to read the book, but it will be enough if they make you stop and ponder, as they did for me.

I do this because I hope to one day write something this powerful. I do this because I have deep love for words and the magic they create. I do it because I love Dickens’ work and wish he was not dead.

Most of all, I do it because words are beautiful. They ought to be appreciated. I believe they can uncover depths in us, timeless depths. Check back if you want to read my thoughts as I share them. I hope they will make you pause for one moment of your day.