Wednesday, April 11, 2007


The chainsaws and woodchipper outside my window are still going strong, and there are no more trees alongside the road, either on my side of the street or across the street. The sky looks very naked now.

My house is still semi-clean, a month later. It's not perfect, and there would be some tidying required before I did another interview in my home, but it's still pretty good. I should probably devote some time to housework soon to make sure things stay okay.

I'm also being pretty good about getting more exercise. I'll be in Colorado next weekend, and the altitude always gets to me, so I'm trying to get a little more fit before I go. I've mostly managed to do at least a little something every day.

And that brings me to today's topic: perfectionism. I've never thought of myself as a perfectionist. I'm generally too impatient for that. Getting it done on time in an acceptable way is usually more important to me than getting it done perfectly. But I've recognized lately that I have a particularly insidious perfectionist streak. My lousy housekeeping is one symptom of that -- it's all or nothing syndrome. If the house gets even a bit messy, I give up and let it all fall apart, and if I can't get it in order in a short period of time, I get frustrated and give up. I've also done that with almost every exercise program I try to get on. When I miss a day, I figure I've ruined everything and let it all slide.

We were discussing this in my music class a couple of weeks ago. I've realized that much of my stage fright is the result of perfectionism. I'm so afraid of making a mistake that I make myself nervous, so I'm more likely to make a mistake, and then I get even more flustered, and the result is that the performance ends up being so much worse than it would have been if I could have accepted that it wouldn't be perfect and just gone with it. I'm not performing at the Met. Most people wouldn't even notice most of the errors I make, but they do notice the total meltdown. If I'd let myself believe that nobody's perfect and keep going past the errors, then I could end up with an overall good performance. I think I'm getting better with that, though it's a work in progress.

The really psycho part of my perfectionism is that it often has to do with the way I think others are judging me. For instance, when I was in New York, I was chatting with my editor about a particular neighborhood that I was thinking of using as a setting for a future book. It turned out to be her neighborhood, and she got all excited about that. I completely freaked out. I said I'd have to make sure I got the details exactly right because she'd know if I messed up. She looked at me like I was insane (very astute woman, she is) and said that actually, it meant I had a handy consultant who could help me make sure the details were right before the book got published. She's right, of course, but I know there's still a part of me that will feel like I've failed if she has to correct some detail based on her day-to-day knowledge of that part of town.

I think that's part of where some of my anxiety about the next book release is coming from. I want to be perfect -- exceeding expectations for sales, having everyone love it -- and a lot of that is out of my control. I can't really affect bookstore orders or whether people will find and buy it. So I go nuts trying to be perfect in controlling the parts I can do something about while stressing over the rest of it.

And now I'm going to go to the post office and library before the sound of chainsaws drives me right over the edge.


Angie said...

Where in Colorado are you going? Hope you'll miss the big snowstorms this Friday and Monday!

Shanna Swendson said...

I'm going to Colorado Springs next Friday for a conference. I really hope the snow is gone. I've had enough snow this year (and how rare is it for me to be able to say that!).