Pay Attention

a reblogged post from In Flow

In Flow with Otto

munchow_0949-072.jpgI think all creatives yearn for some kind of success, some kind of recognition for the work we do. Success is maybe not why we photograph, write, paint or travel—or whatever creative activity we do—or ought not to be. The work itself, being creative, is a reward good enough if we only let ourselves not get obsessed with the thought of success. The craving for success can actually get in the way of our creative endeavour.

Nevertheless, we do feel good when we experience some kind of success, whether it’s monetary gain or just some heartfelt feedback from a good friend. I am sure you know what I am talking about.

Success is all in our minds, though. You cannot control how the world will receive and perceive your artistic work, but you can be in command of how you feel about it yourself. If you let yourself feel good…

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Five-Phrase Friday (18): Perfect Reads?

On the 18th–perfect! What a fitting time to renew this message–when we’re trying so hard to do what we ought for the holidays, find some enjoyment in their midst, temper our expectations of the latest release by the Star Wars franchise (The Force Awakens opens in theaters today, as if you didn’t know), and prepare to make New Year’s resolutions.

Five biblio-antidotes to perfectionism. . . . Yes, I just made that word up on purpose so you would consciously check your perfectionism from the outset.

Looking for a last-minute holiday gift, or is it not yet last-minute for you, you procrastinating perfectionist?

Consider a book, film, podcast, course, or program about understanding, overcoming, recovering from, and/or channelling perfectionism. A gift for someone else or for yourself to offset making all those cookies, crafts, decorations, family photos, shopping trips, greeting cards, plans for seasonal outings, band concerts, dance recitals, Nativity plays, online purchases, sweaters for your dog, gift wrappings, countdowns to the day you’ll get a break from the madness, and silent vows never to put yourself through all this stress ever again, even if it means your kids go without Christmas.

This week, I offer five book titles toward that end (reducing stress, not excising Christmas)—two I’ve read and recommend, three I’m discovering along with you. I just looked on Amazon and chose some that spoke to me through their titles, a range of publication dates, and, of course, their high ratings coupled with a significant sample of reviews (conformity mixed with perfectionism, I know, but bear with me).

  1. Addiction to Perfection: The Still Unravished Bride (1988) by Marion Woodman – I read this as a teen; it’s from a Jungian psychology series.
  2. The Artist’s Way (1992) by Julia Cameron – One of my favorite books overall. See the list of links below to my related posts.
  3. Present Perfect: A Mindfulness Approach to Letting Go of Perfectionism and the Need for Control (2010) by Pavel G. Somov PhD – The grammar reference alone makes me happy.
  4. Confessions of a Raging Perfectionist: Learning to Be Free (2013) by Amanda Jenkins – a testimonial approach to self-help
  5. Positively Perfect: How to Love and Utilize Your Perfectionist Qualities (2015) by Claudia Svartefoss – Don’t hate perfectionism; it’s counter-productive.

There are also many books for kids on the subject of needing, wanting, and seeking to be perfect, and the reasons behind those impulses.

Feel free to let me know what you think of any of the above books. I’ll probably add 3, 4, and 5 to my Goodreads.com to-read list.

I know that a conspicuous irony of promoting self-reflection regarding one’s perfectionism is that the perfectionist often already over-thinks things and can be too self-absorbed. If this is you, don’t beat yourself up! (That’s perfectionist behavior, after all.) Don’t see this list as a scolding or criticism. It’s an act of loving permission I give you to be imperfect by leading you to ways to learn how to do that—and, ultimately, be happier.

If you’re thinking, “Happiness—who cares? I want to be famous/rich/brilliant/impeccable/phenomenal/[fill in your perfectionist goal or label here],” realize that you’ve become one of those greedy little pan-dimensional mouse-beings from the film The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (based on the books by Douglas Adams), and you might just be about to steal someone else’s . . . er, property (no spoilers), to serve your own power-hungry aims.

That’s mean.

Don’t be mean. Don’t try to be perfect. Strive instead to be your truest self—in all your imperfect glory.

Then again, perhaps only the mindful person is likely to read my blog in the first place, and you’ve already gone down this introspective road.

Maybe I’m only preaching to the choir, but it’s based on hard lessons from lived experience. I’m in a position to share some wisdom on this, and I do so with compassion for fellow sufferers of psychological wounds that are self-inflicted but with external triggers.

Here are some of my other posts–several inspired by other bloggers–on the subject of perfectionism, particularly as it relates to art and writing:

  1. Play-Write: A Response to “On Treating Writing As a Form of Play” March 24, 2015
  2. Reflection on “Abandoning Perfection,” March 23, 2015 (direct response)
  3. On Process: Verse Writing, Part IV: Reflection, March 18, 2015
  4. On Process: Verse Writing, Part II: Developing an Idea, Trying a New Form, March 11, 2015
  5. Is Writing a Single Bad Sentence a Signal of Bad Writing?, February 26, 2015 (direct response)
  6. Thoughts on “How to Be a Confident Writer,” January 29, 2015 (direct response)
  7. Classic Learning, January 28, 2015
  8. RE: Re-re-re-revision, January 19, 2015 (direct response)
  9. On “Writing Without Hope” by Jennifer Lynn Krohn, January 1, 2015 (direct response)
  10. Practice makes . . . , January 16, 2014

I encourage you (and me) to re-define what success looks like for you, to appreciate more of what you already have, to forgive yourself and others, and to move beyond what holds you back from joy and peace.

Happy–if not perfect–Holidays.


And in defiance of a different kind of perfectionism, that of morality in literature and art, here are some posts that use explicit and non-standard language; broach taboo subjects and explore subversive notions; celebrate irony, confusion, and contradiction; and/or expose and oppose that nasty foe, censorship, whether of self or others.

On Language:

On Politics:

In Book Reviews: Book Review: Let Me Off at the Top!

Wild Breast Taxonomy:

And a thought for writers: Free to Write, or Not to Write

Remember, kids: Words are not deeds. In a civil society, physical violence is always worse than incendiary or offensive speech, written, or artistic expression. Real fire hurts worse than searing insults–no, really. So, to hell with fascism and tyranny everywhere.

Portrait of the Statue as a Young Girl

Portrait of the Statue as a Young Girl.

Today is a great day to read online, to relish and remember the best of what we live and read.

Today, thanks to The Green Study‘s weekly Wednesday introduction of blogs this month, I found this eloquent, lyrical, penetrating slice into a life I can almost see and touch, and definitely learn from.

Today brings a model for engaging memoir. The power of Alice’s work buds from the hard, simple truths of memory in the face of disputed details and denied facts and events. That power grows with the writer’s courageous, slow unsticking of another corner of the bandage over still-healing wounds.

Today is a day to meet new people. Evocative, thought provoking, and inspiring, “Portrait of the Statue as a Young Girl” stands alone beautifully but also serves as just the most recent in a series of posts for the author’s ongoing memory project, of which I’ll be reading more.

Read it. Today.

Thoughts on “How to be a Confident Writer . . .”

Weekend Edition – How to be a Confident Writer Plus Writing Tips and Good Reads.

“The trick is to metabolize pain as energy. Learn, when hit by loss, to ask the right question: ‘What next?’ instead of ‘Why me?”  — Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

I agree with most of the major points in the main post linked above on the confidence/vulnerability topic, including the embedded, sampled responses. In fact, I found myself at each turn nodding and thinking, “Just like Julia Cameron says in The Artist’s Way.” Many of these themes and issues arise frequently in the book. **

The one thing I disagree with, and side with Cameron about, is the notion that we are our own best judges. While it is true that during the creation process it is best to eschew judgment (especially of ourselves) altogether, once the art has been created and it’s time to assess and edit, others’ opinions are often helpful and sometimes indispensable.

“All too often, it is audacity and not talent that moves an artist to center stage.” — Julia Cameron

Julia Cameron effectively says, Repeat after me, “My job is to create, not to judge.” This mindset frees us to express ourselves in flow without expectation, and it reminds us that there are enough critics among potential readers out there–our own misgivings need not apply.

At the same time, it is part of a writer’s job not to avoid judgement but to seek the wisest, most trusted sources of beta readers for objective, constructive feedback and counsel. Although this step can be scary even with trusted readers, it’s better than to resign ourselves solely to subjective self-flagellation by our internal committee of unreliable critics.

“Always remember that your Censor’s negative opinions are not the truth.”  — Julia Cameron

In other words, each phase has its useful function and purpose (creation, critique, and self-critique), and we need not fear going through all the phases, as long as the input is positive and helps us move forward with our writing and, thus, our confidence. Cameron equally encourages artists to shield themselves against negativity in general and disparaging reviews in particular.

“Progress, not perfection, is what we should be asking of ourselves.”  — Julia Cameron

Ultimately, art is meant to communicate, which requires an interface and exchange between writer and reader, speaker and listener, image and viewer. Not everyone on the receiving end will be nice to the provider, but very few will be intentionally mean or corrosive. Artistic expression requires a little trust and a little faith in people, not to mention courage, if it is to be shared confidently.

“Leap, and the net will appear.”  — Julia Cameron

Avoiding all external judgement, a course that may seem blissful and safe, is not the path to unshakable confidence. It is a fool’s errand to make art while simultaneously expecting to publish and preparing to ignore responses to what we make. We only retard our development by insisting on operating in a vacuum.

Artistic growth occurs in conversation with other art and artists–which is increasingly true in the blogging and social networking age–whatever forms the art and the conversations may take. The dual gift is that we cannot help but improve as people while we improve as artists.

We can always learn from each other, even through the challenging moments. When we remain open with a balanced, sensible approach to engagement, artistic fortitude can be mutually and self-reinforcing. From there, we only get better.

Bon courage!

“No matter what your age or your life path, whether making art is your career or your hobby or your dream, it is not too late or too egotistical or too selfish or too silly to work on your creativity.”  — Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity


** Seriously, if you are a budding (or veteran but jaded) creative type with low or wavering self-esteem, you should probably give The Artist’s Way program a try. Applied as intended, it is therapy that liberates mind and spirit and a system that fuels inspiration and creativity.


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