This week on Unlocking Big Magic we discuss another knotty subject. The title of the chapter & our conversation is Persistence & we talk about that, but for me the big takeaways came from what I discovered about perfectionism.
So let me jump straight in & ask; what comes to mind when you think about Perfectionism?
In my experience it might be:
‘Perfectionism is a real problem for me because it holds me back & mostly it stops from being who I really am.’
In which case the video is definitely for you.
Or perhaps you might think;
‘Being a perfectionist is helpful, because it means everything I do is perfect,’
‘Perfectionism isn’t an issue for me,’
If it’s either of these I’m sorry to disappoint you, but you have a problem. And, if you read more & watch the video you’ll find out why & learn how to work round it.
I always thought perfectionism wasn’t an issue for me as I’m not concerned about making things perfect (which you’ll have noticed if you’ve been reading my blogs for a while 😊).
However, as I worked through this chapter, I had several profound realisations, as I unearthed habits which I hadn’t previously realised were related to perfectionism. These don’t just apply to how I approach my creativity, but to many aspects of my life.
You’ll need to watch or listen to discover the details, however here’s a taster in case any of these apply to you.
- Firstly this quote ….
Ouch! In the name of research, I shared this with a few friends & it never failed to cause a reaction. Mainly because, at our core, the majority of us have a ‘not good enough’ belief.
One way of side-stepping perfectionism is not to try. Ouch again!
This is something I’ve certainly been guilty of & Cali taught me a lovely reframe for this.
What might be driving me to pause or stop a creative project (& we talk about this again next week)
- Brené Brown’s research on perfectionism,
- why we try harder when we do or make things for others than we make them for ourselves,
- why it’s useful to look at what you gained (hint, it may have something to do with this quote).
These were my key points; however, for the first time Cali’s were different, which is really interesting.
You’ll have to watch the video to discover what they are, & to consider how much of a particular sort of sandwich you’re prepared to eat.
Here’s the audio & the transcription is below.
Thank you so much for watching.
We’d love to know what you think of our conversation.
Cali Bird loves to encourage people to make a start on their creative projects no matter what else they have going on in their lives. She is in her mid-fifties, has practised Buddhism for over thirty years and is a self-confessed tree-hugger. Download the Gentle Creative manifesto now – 28 brilliant tips on making time to be creative, overcoming fear and recognising the value of your artistic life. She has recently published her first novel, Tales of the Countess, which is a romantic comedy featuring handbags that talk!
You can find the other blogs in the series on the links below:
Unlocking Big Magic; Conversations about creativity with Cali & Lesley.
Transcription, Episode 4, Persistence and Perfectionism.
Lesley. Hello. I’m Lesley Pyne, author of Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness, blogger and all around creative. And we’re here, Cali and myself talking about chapter four of Big Magic, Persistence. So, I’m going to hand over to Cali.
Cali. Thank you. Yes, my name is Cali Bird, I love to blog about creativity & I do that at Gentle Creative. And I also write, one of my books recently out this year, if you’re into talking handbags, check it out. And that wouldn’t have come about without this book, Big Magic. So, we’re on Part Four; in each of these episodes, we’re discussing one of the chapters of Big Magic & we’re on four of six.
And this one, this is a whopper isn’t it Lesley, there’s a lot in it, quite profound stuff. It’s about persistence and, we’ve each found something that has really spoken to us. And different points, because usually it’s the same stuff we’re raving about. But it’s been quite different this week, which is quite interesting. So, I’m going to start on mine, and then we’ll hear more from Lesley.
So, about 10/15 pages into this chapter Elizabeth Gilbert starts talking about making art, doing creative things and having a day job. I certainly fall into this. In an ideal world it would be great not to have the job, it would be great to have an abundance of time and energy. She talks about how it would be great if you had another like your spouse or someone else who could support you. She talks about the concept of a studio wife, you know, you just sit there and create and do all that stuff and someone else then takes responsibility for the other things.
Now if you’ve got that fantastic, but most of us haven’t, I certainly haven’t. I work part time in my day job. In recent years I’ve had more family responsibilities, not kids, I don’t have kids, but I’ve had elderly parents, my husband’s also had some health issues recently. So, there’s lots going on in my life that takes away from the day job. And I must admit, I do spend time thinking, I wish it wasn’t like this, I wish I had that I wish I was like this person.
And she comes in with quite a stern rebuke actually, it’s on page 154, I have it bookmarked. Because she said, you know, what we’re searching for is, it’d be great if everything was a nice safe womb, and we could do our creativity. And she says, This is a world, not a womb. You can look after yourself in yourself in this world while looking after your creativity at the same time. What’s more, there is a profound sense of honour to be found in looking after yourself, and that honour will resonate powerfully in your work; it will make your work stronger. So, there’s a bit of finger wagging here. But I also love this because she also vindicates what I’m doing because it’s hard sometimes, it’s hard to be motivated, it’s hard to drag myself out of bed before I do my day job or anything else. And then she finishes this section, talking about people who get up in the morning to write before the job, many, many authors have done that. And she gives an example of a couple who are both illustrators, but they work full time, that’s where the lion’s share their income comes but every morning, they get up early and spend an hour quietly drawing.
And she says (p156): People don’t do this kind of thing because they have all the extra energy and time for it: they do this kind of thing, because their creativity matters to them enough that they are willing to make all kinds of extra sacrifices for it. And I just really feel that spoke to me because you know, I do make these sacrifices and it is tiring and sometimes you do think, am I crazy for doing this. But she makes the point later in this chapter that your creativity will send you crazy if you don’t do it. So, you know if you’re out there toiling away and it’s hard and you wish you didn’t have to work, but you’re doing it anyway. Well done, that’s honourable, you’re doing the right thing. Please keep doing it and let’s come together and keep supporting each other. As Lesley supports me.
Lesley. I think that’s so true, isn’t it and she also talks about having an affair with your creativity. She’s sitting there looking a real mess in her pyjamas or whatever. And treating creativity like a lover so, get yourself cleaned up, get dressed, comb your hair, and then you feel better. I know when I was writing my book, I didn’t write at my desk, I wrote on a table at the side of my desk. I just created that right environment, I put on some nice music or no music, whichever felt right. But it was creating the circumstances, the environment. We talked before, didn’t we about being gentle with your creativity and if you’re gentle with it, it’s more likely to find you, isn’t it?
Cali. Yeah. She talks about playing lightly, doesn’t she? Let your day job do the heavy lifting work so your creativity can play lightly.
Lesley. And some of it is a bit like the Artist Date in the Artists Way where you go off and do some other things to help to get your creativity flowing? But it’s just keep going, isn’t it? That’s the thing. Really. Have you got any tips about that?
Cali. To be honest, there’s two schools of thought. You talk about creating the right environment, & that’s great if you can, but many, many of time I have written in a train where there’s not enough legroom where I can’t get my laptop back far enough to the seat in front, and I’m typing like this. But well, I’ve got this 15 minutes, 20 minutes on the train to do this. And that’s all the time I’ve got today. Or I could say the train’s too cramped, I can’t do it. And I choose to do it. So, it works both ways. It’s great when you can have time and space. And I certainly people have rituals, because it just puts you in that creative mindset. You get on with it, so you no longer wait to feel it. You do the ritual, so you do feel like doing that. But equally, there’s times you just have to do it on a cramped train, if that’s all the time you’ve got today. It both works for different circumstances.
Lesley. And it’s what are you willing to give up, isn’t it? I gave up quite a lot of things, while I was writing, but maybe you don’t have to do that but maybe you give up 15 minutes of scrolling social media to start doing something else. That’s the other thing, you can always find a few minutes, can’t you?
Cali. Yeah, you can. And it’s amazing what you can do in those pockets of time, which I think is the point she’s making. You can steal time here and there. And it’s worth doing that.
Lesley. Yes, exactly. And lots of 15 minutes go long, long way.
Cali. So, what is it about this chapter that got to you then Lesley?
Lesley. Well, perfectionism
Cali… that one?
Lesley. Yeah, there’s this quote, which I’ve read this to a few friends this week, and they all nodded. (p167) But I see it differently, I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more than a deep existential angst the says, again and again, ‘I am not good enough and I will never be good enough.’
Cali. Ouch! And what does that mean to you?
Lesley. I head off to Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly, because she talks quite a bit about perfectionism. That perfectionism is the belief that if we do things perfectly, we can minimize and avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame. And it’s, it’s all at its core, it’s about earning approval. What will people think? But it’s unattainable, isn’t it?
Cali. You can’t be perfect, there isn’t perfect.
Lesley. Exactly., Liz talks herself about The Signature Of All Things and that there’s a character in there, that’s undeveloped. And several of her first readers mentioned this, but she decided just to leave it and the sun came up the next day. So, if we have that perfectionism belief that I’m not good enough, it’s self- perpetuating, isn’t it? Because nothing is ever perfect, nothing can be perfect. We could go back through our books and find mistakes and errors or things that we want to change. But when you do that, you perpetuate that myth that I’m not good enough. It’s that story that just keeps coming and coming and coming.
I was talking in my crafting group last week; I just floated the what’s perfectionism? And everybody said that it was more important for things to be perfect when they were doing them for other people. We were just talking before we started recording, when you’re cooking at home if you’re just cooking for you or whoever you live with, you probably don’t care quite so much. But if people are coming over to eat, then it’s a whole bigger thing, isn’t it?
I’d always thought of myself as not perfectionist, perfection is not an issue for me. But when I think about that not good enough, then it is. I’m not trying to attain perfection but looking at what do people think is probably a bit of a thing for me.
Cali. I think this helped me when I read when I first read Big Magic few years ago. She helped me put the distance between me and my work, because we get so embroiled with it. And we’ve talked about this a couple of times now. There’s a separation between when you’re doing it you, when it’s done there’s nothing you can do it’s out in the world people will make about what they will. Your part of is done & we’ve got to keep creating anyway, I mean, the chapter name is persistence.
And she’s dealt well with rejection over the years. Because it’s all very well, it’s easy to look at her now and go oh, Eat Pray Love, yeah, that sold 10 million copies. I’d feel okay about it, too. But she’s got there through years of writing in obscurity. She tells a great anecdote in here; she’d written a short story and sent it off to an editor of a journal or a magazine somewhere. And the editor has come back said, yeah, it’s very nice but I’m not sure about the ending in what I call a nice rejection, where it’s not an outright no on a photocopied letter it’s no with encouragement.
And then in the chapter before she was talks about every time a rejection comes in, she backs a story back over the net. She had this rule that whenever rejection came in, she would put another story out in the world until she could just wear people down. And she tells this great anecdote. So, she did this over a number of years and then eventually she had a literary agent. And the agent sent the same story in the same editor and it was a few years later, then the editor came back and raved about it. She said it really evokes something, I don’t know what it is. I really liked it. And it was the same story, same ending. And Liz’s quietly questioned her, are you sure you liked it? And the editor, yeah, it was fabulous.
Again, that’s a story of persistence. A. The persistence of doing it and B those results where, when you talk about success, or what does success mean, and it means getting a bigger audience and then potentially money that goes with it. That comes because you’ve been persistent. In obscurity I suppose, or just doing it anyway?
Lesley. Yes, that’s the thing isn’t it, just keep going. Because there’s another bit earlier on, I think, when she talks about learning her patterns, emotional patterns of creativity. Ie (p146) This is the part of the process where I wish I’d never engaged with this idea at all. I remember this. I always go through this stage. So that’s persistence, perfectionism, wanting to do it as well as you can, learning that, okay, well, this is the time it gets hard, then this is the time sometimes I might be tempted to give up, because I can’t do it as well as I want to do it or for whatever reason. So, it’s back to fear and courage that we spoke about, right at the start, isn’t it?
Cali. Yeah, how to do it anyway, or in spite of that?
Lesley. The other thing that hit me about perfectionism was, a friend mentioned this, she said, one of the ways she gets around it is by not trying. I didn’t try very hard, therefore, it doesn’t matter if it’s not good. And I thought that’s quite interesting, isn’t it? I’ve done that myself actually
Cali. You do it in a more playful way, then when you take the pressure off self,
Lesley. But then not trying means, it’s a sort of giving up
Cali. It could be either way because you can view it in terms of, I’m not going to try it and therefore I’m going to produce something crap. And then I can distance myself from it. But it could also mean, sometimes when you don’t try so hard, then you’re more playful and you’re taking the pressure off yourself. And actually, then that’s like playing a game yourself and then telling yourself, it doesn’t matter, and then you’re freer.
Lesley. That’s a good way of looking at it.
Cali. It’s not work either way, I think you do have to play games, I have to play games myself, when I’m drafting new blogs, it’s like, just write for 20 minutes, see what happens, you know, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t, it might not go anywhere. Just have a go until nine o’clock in the morning until 10, or whatever, then you can go make a cup of tea. So you kind of have to cut those deals with yourself and take the pressure off. And when you produce when it’s actually not so bad. And then that frees you up to do something.
I liked a thing in here, she talks about it earlier in the chapter, she calls it the shit sandwich, excuse the language, but she wrote it. And it is taking that rough with the smooth because again, we often have an idealized view. I love to write, but I can’t bear the rejection, so I won’t do it. And we use that as an excuse not to do it. As she says in any endeavour in there. If you want to be a lawyer, you want to be a comedian, if you’re not prepared for the downside, you’re not going to get to do the upside. And it all comes back to how much do you want to do this? And how much are you called to do it? And if you’re really called to do it and feel really good to do it. Then you’ll eat the shit sandwich. And she talks about, I’ll eat someone else’s as well, if that’s what it takes. And I liked that.
Lesley. And the rule is that the more you do stuff the better you get at it, don’t you? That’s the thing, I’ve got a embroidery project which has just got a little bit hard, and I’ve put it to the side for a while, because we’re recording this in November, and I’m doing some Christmassy things. But there could be a temptation to put it away because it’s got hard, but there’s a point here, I’ve just trying to try to find it. It’s about how you grew, if you like, when you did it, that’s yours, whatever the outcome. I grew a huge amount while I was writing my book.
Cali. I remember,
Lesley. I’ve always got that. At the end of the day that was that was the hidden purpose of writing it, I guess. And I’ve always got that to keep whatever the outcome is. The same with you with yours; perfect or not, but you persisted hugely, you’re an example to all of us in persistence
Cali. I’ll have it tattooed here. I really enjoyed reading this because it said, what you’re doing is okay, you’re doing it and it doesn’t matter. The other stuff does. And whatever tricks it takes to do that. How are we on time?
Lesley. We’ve got 18 and a half minutes
Cali. What’s you’re takeaway?
Lesley. Well, I’m just going to read that quote,( P181) ‘……the merits of that creative adventure were mine to keep forever. Those four years of my life had been wonderfully well spent’. So, it’s is just turning it round to say. What did I gain from that?
I guess a couple of takeaways, mainly about perfectionism. I thought it wasn’t an issue for me. And it is, so it’s something to work on. Damn! The merits of reading things several times because that quote, the quote that I read out before, I hadn’t noticed it first time. And I’m reading Big Magic for the third time it, and it’s singing to me an awful lot more.
Cali. I must admit, this is probably the third or fourth time I’ve read it. And I love the fact we’re going through it with a tooth comb, because I’m seeing stuff I’ve not noticed before or maybe it’s just right for this time, this chapter is very pertinent for me. I think my takeaway is that conditions aren’t perfect. She talks about Herman Melville who wrote Moby Dick, and how he wrote to a friend how he wished he had more time to write and to create and less stuff going on. So, it’s a universal thing.
So, one of the things I have to just remember that where I am is okay, and she says, most individuals have never had enough time and they’ve never had enough resources and they’ve never had enough support or patronage or reward. And yet they still persist and created them. They persist because they care. They persist because they are called to be makers by any means necessary. And that really gets me because it’s really great to know No, this is totally normal, you’ll fine just carry on. So, if you’re out there and it’s uphill, it’s okay. Just carry on. Persistence.
Lesley. That’s great. That’s us for today and we shall back next week
Cali. With trust, let’s see what we find in there. Thank you very much.