This is the sharp conclusion of a two-part series on perfectionism by Soraya Gallant. If you haven’t already, please read Part 1 here.
Soraya is our coop student from Ryerson University; our magic internicorn. She swooped in on our digital team at the beginning of May, and she’s been involved in everything from sending out our Little Bird press releases to pouring glasses of coconut water at my book launch parties!
Soraya wrote this piece on a tight deadline. I loved working with her on it, and watching her coax her sparkling, feisty voice out of academic essay and into the living, breathing, constantly-changing blogosphere (I can’t believe I just used the word blogosphere).
I’ve been out of university for years: I forgot what it felt like to write for grades all the time. I am so grateful for what and how I learned in my degrees, but I’ve also worked with enough recovering academics to know that being in conventional schools for most of our young adult lives can train us to expect evaluation… forever. What does that do to our creative process?
I asked Soraya to write this piece for us because I knew she was smart, and I wanted to learn from her perspective. We’re two decades apart in age, and, maybe because I’m not teaching in universities, I don’t get to talk to twenty-something writers that often.
Soraya Gallant has a lot to teach us about learning, and she says it beautifully. Read Part Two of her piece, below.
Soraya recently graduated with her Masters in Literatures of Modernity (Whoop! Finished!) but that also means we’re going to have to say goodbye soon. We’re all sending her big thanks and good luck as she moves to the next chapter of her career. I have a feeling she’ll be hired by someone fantastic this summer. Please leave a comment if you’ve enjoyed her essay!
Permission to Fail: Or, Learning to Love Mistakes (Part 2)
In my last post, I touched on the difference between being a teacher and a student.
When I taught English abroad in France, I made mistakes every day. I tried to assimilate to life and culture there while constantly making social or linguistic faux pas. I would say things that wouldn’t click. I expected more than my students (grades 8, 9, 11, and 12) were sometimes willing to give. For the first time, maybe because I wasn’t being graded, I revelled in those mistakes. There were no consequences; I could just make the mistake, apologize, correct, and move on. It didn’t impact a grade that would prevent me from going to uni, it was more like handing someone the wrong change: normal, without consequence.
I’ve always been a writer. It’s led me down a beautiful path where I studied literature and writing. I can’t stop writing: whether it’s elaborate texts, or papers, poems and short stories and flash fiction, or half-started novels and stage musicals. My body burns with a desire to get it all out.
In Part One, I asked you to recognize what it is that is holding you back from making mistakes and embracing flaws. I told you to get it all out. It sounded almost agonizingly guru-esque, but if you thought about it, I’m happy to reveal why that exercise is important.
Here’s my coveted Painful Truth of Writing™: the words don’t care. Your words will not judge you.
You’re allowed to take your time with it, fuck it up, burn it, trash it, toil away for months, or struggle for days on one word. You’re allowed to stay up all night ignoring the dishes and laundry because you must work on that one idea. You’re allowed to start over. You’re allowed to make it big, weird, experimental. You’re allowed to make it personal, small, quiet.
Your writing does not have to be anything, except what you need it to be. And each new piece can be its own beast — unique, alive, and breathing.
Some of the things you write will be therapeutic: a purging of the heart, or soul, or memory. These can be “out” stories, counterparts to the “in” stories that make you reflect inward, that cause you to happen upon realizations as you pen them, that make you unearth things from within. Those can be therapeutic, too; less like talking to a therapist, and more like truly recognizing how your reflection has aged while you weren’t paying attention.
Some of the things you write don’t have to be anything at all. Not all writing has to be profound, literary, highfalutin. If that’s not your natural voice then you don’t need to force it. Good stories come from good storytellers. Your best friend talking about a harrowing coffee run can be as interesting as your grandparents reminiscing about the war years, and both can have as much power as anything written by literary greats.
Honesty with and learning from yourself and the words is all that should really matter.
Good storytellers are honest with themselves, and the process. They trust themselves. They trust the mistakes. They trust that not every story bursts forth fully-formed; most stories are knock-kneed and wandering like fawns who need time to grow.
Sit with that for a minute. Mistakes are just learning.
I’m going to stop polishing this piece now. This is what I want to say. It is enough. Someone will like it, someone won’t, and that’s okay.
The cure for crippling perfectionism and/or a fear of mistakes is just embracing imperfection.
It’s getting it wrong. Embracing weird flow. It’s not a reflection of your self-worth. It’s not a reflection of your teaching. It’s the most natural thing in the world. It’s bumping teeth in a kiss with a new partner because you’re excited. It’s getting on the train going in the opposite direction of travel because you’re new. No one suffers, no one is harmed — simple mistakes add to the story.
Mistakes might lead you astray for a moment, but they won’t hurt you.
Thomas Edison apparently said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.”
You’ll find ten thousand words that won’t work.
Ten thousand ideas that aren’t quite it.
Ten thousand times you were this close to eking out exactly what you wanted, and then couldn’t.
And that’s okay! You’re learning. You’re writing. Make the mistake. Do it.
Let yourself learn.
— Soraya Gallant, Toronto, 2018