On Perfectionists

Greetings from post #250! The milestone has been accelerated a little since I started up this third stream – you’ll see one of the Wolfenstein posts in a couple weeks also celebrating that #250 mark. I’m going to leave it in for you, because it’s wrong and outdated and deserves to be mocked. I wasn’t planning on doing anything special for this post. I currently have a backlog of six or seven different buildings that I want to talk about, and I was just gonna pick one of them. I have photos of them all, some research, but I’m just not feeling inspired. Also I ran out of time. Let’s talk about perfectionists instead.

As I was coming up through undergrad and my honours degree, the number of perfectionists around me seemed to increase. It was never really something I understood – it just wasn’t particular to my psychology, in that sense. I was still really invested in my grades, to the point where I felt pretty crushed if I did poorly, but that’s not something that affects me as much today. I’m more mature. I’m an adult, I have better self-esteem. I’m not eighteen any more.

At the same time, I think this blog engages with the psychology of perfectionism in a really interesting way. The publication schedule is obviously quite punishing – it’s normally two articles a week, at a thousand words each. I’ve also recently started up this third stream, seeing as theology and video games are queued until June or whatever. On a really brutally practical level, then, this blog doesn’t encourage perfectionism. I can’t labour and agonise over my stuff, because there’s so much of it coming out. I have to hit my deadlines. If anything, that’s my peculiar obsession – if I’ve got a release schedule, I have to hit it. During the early days of the blog, that was a problem. I’d put too much on the plate, struggle to keep up with the schedule, and crash. You’ve got to remember, this blog started as a way for me to keep myself writing and thinking in my first full-time job. I was still getting used to the 9-5 work day, as well as learning all the systems and procedures around the office. And I’d crash. I’d get really grumpy. A huge learning process, for me, has actually been knowing when to rest.

So on the one hand, sure, the structure of the blog doesn’t encourage perfectionists. There’s an element of panic involved in the scheduling. You could say that deadlines encourage creativity, and discourage perfectionists. But on the other hand, I think there’s a weirdly backwards kind of perfectionism that’s kinda generated retrospectively. For instance, I realised at about half past ten on Thursday night that I hadn’t written Friday’s (today’s) post. And internally, I was like ah fuck, you fucking idiot, should’ve been better with your time management. I knew that whatever I ended up posting would be rushed and lower quality, and that’s not satisfying. Any idiot can dribble out a thousand words on a keyboard. The joy of this blog is in presenting stuff that’s of a high quality. So even though the schedule doesn’t give me heaps of time to labour over individual posts, it also forces me to work to a high standard under pressure. The brutal publishing speed makes me want to improve on the process of writing, rather than necessarily on the quality of any individual piece. It challenges me to perfect the process of writing fast and well.

And that’s a weird sort of perfectionism. Often one of the problems for perfectionists is that they sweat forever over one tiny piece of work and then get swallowed up by insecurity and paralysis, ultimately never completing or releasing anything. Similarly, it seems like perfectionists can be hyper-critical of the few things they do release, focusing entirely on the flaws to the neglect of wider virtues. With this blog, I haven’t really encountered those issues. Partly, as I say, it’s because I’m not especially a perfectionist in the first place. But I also think that the types of perfectionism that are cultivated by this blog structure encourage me to perfect the process, rather than the product. For instance, if I read my old pieces (and I do, sometimes), I can pretty clearly see that they’re awful. But I don’t recriminate myself for having written a bad article. I recriminate myself for having a bad process. It’s not even really a recrimination at that point, because I know that my process today is a fuck of a lot better than it was in 2015. By shifting my attention from product to process, the strengths and flaws of individual works are subsumed within the wider context of personal development. Crucially, my criticisms of those individual works are also recontextualised as criticisms of the process that produced them. And that process isn’t static. It’s not complete. I don’t have to beat myself up about one stupid article from four years ago, because I’ve already made improvements to the production line, such that an article like that one would never come out again.

When I first returned to do my Masters, I mentioned my blog to another academic, just to show that I’d been keeping my hand in. He said something like ‘Oh well, I hope working on that level hasn’t ruined you for real intellectual labour.’ I knew he was wrong, but I’ve not really been able to articulate why until now. This blog isn’t displaying academic scholarship. I’m not operating in that mode, and none of the pieces here necessarily have a great deal of value in that context. But it has been really formative in developing my writing process. I know what it means to sit down and write a thousand words in one go. I know what it means to write to deadlines, to write when you’re not feeling it. I know what it means to write past writer’s block and anxiety and self-doubt. I don’t have time for that shit. I’m on a schedule. Beep beep, motherfuckers. The process is coming through.

~~~

A brief post-script. 250 posts is a huge achievement for me. Yes, a couple of those are announcements about how I was stopping for a while, but that article on The Shack is also 4000 words long, so it balances out. The blog began alongside 2016 – I actually recently had a little notification about my three-year anniversary on WordPress. My goal has always been a hundred posts a year, so 250 in just over three years is pretty good going. It’s a quarter-million words. By the time I finish my PhD, I should have half a million. I haven’t started the PhD yet, but when I do, one of my major goals is to maintain the blog alongside my other research. It’s a big new step in improving the process. Ever forward, perfectionists.

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