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Advice to my younger selfThe valley is a blank space; only heat and light and the buzz of cicada song separate the dusty slopes. Remembering your emptied apartment, the bare walls that used to contain your life, you are almost breathless with shock. Writing doesn’t flow more easily in the mountains. You are no less distracted when you are hundreds of milesfrom home. You think about abandoning this experiment, hiring a driver to transport you round the hairpin bends back to the airport.Stay. Stay in this isolatedplace and let your senses sharpen. Soon you will hear the undulations, knocks and clicks when the cicadas sing, notice the flash of silver olive leaves against the valley slopes, and how the red dust smells like coconut. These details will crop up in your writing in the future. Stay and enjoy this rare period of solitude. Listen to the ideas whispered into your ear inthe night, by a voice you can only hear when you are truly alone. Years from now you’ll realise your best stories were conceived here.Stay and learn how to be receptive. Don’t worry if the writing doesn’t flow. There’s more to writing than putting pen to paper.HELEN CALDWELL is an English language teacher. She has performed one of her short stories at Edinburgh International Book Festival, and published interviews with some of her favourite authors on her blog, up to 150 words of your hard-won wisdom about writing and life to the self- critical voice telling you your writing will never be good enough; the paralysing procrastination that stops you even starting for fear of failing; the blame you pile upon yourself when you don’t meet your own unrealistic goals; the self-doubt that takes the pleasure out of favourite pursuits.Does any of this sound familiar? For a lot of us, perfectionism plays like judgmental muzak in the background of our lives, andwe aren’t aware just how debilitating it is. As journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, write in their book, The Confidence Code: ‘Of all the warped things women do to themselves to undermine their confidence, we found the pursuit of perfection to be the most crippling’. They add, ‘plenty of studies show that this is a largely female issue’.ARE YOU A PERFECTIONIST?Psychologists have identified two types of perfectionism: adaptive and maladaptive. Adaptive perfectionism is the healthy type, striving towards goals and deriving satisfaction from achievements. Maladaptive perfectionism, however, is characterised by excessively high standards, intolerance for mistakes, overly critical self- evaluation, and fear of others’ evaluations. Not a comfortable combination when you’re working alone, believing your writing will never be ‘good enough’, stuck in an endless cycle of rewrites and edits. As author Anne Lamott writes, perfectionism ‘will keep you cramped and insane your whole life. It’s the main obstacle between you and a first draft’.PERFECT PROCRASTINATIONYou might think that perfectionism leads to high achievement, but the opposite can be true. Fear of failure can be so consuming it stops us taking action. In their excellentbook, Procrastination: Why YouDo It, What to Do About It Now, Jane Burka and Lenora Yuen show how perfectionism and procrastination are linked – if, like me, you are a procrastinator, this book might change your life. I also took an online perfectionist personality testat tests. The results were alarming, but at least I now know the subconscious activity that stops me submitting work. So, how to break the cycle?LEARN AS YOU GOAmerican radio host Ira Glass offered this advice to those starting out in the creativeworld: ‘For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not... A lot of people never get past this phase: they quit... If you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work’.So, taking action is the best way to overcome perfectionism. As Dorothea Brande urges all writers to do in her timeless book, Becoming A Writer, ‘turn off your inner critic’ whilst writing the first draft. Let the words flow and keep putting your work out there, however imperfect you think it is. Let your readers be the judge. On the reissue of her earlier books, Emily St. John Mandel remarked: ‘It was interesting to revisit them after all these years, especially my first novel, Last Night in Montreal. I think it’s by far the weakest of my books. I’m mystified that it gets more attention than my second and third novels’.No doubt many writers look back on some of their earlier work and cringe, but it’s better to keep creating and learn as you go, than to stew away thinking of the perfect novel you’ll never actually write.And the best thing about accepting imperfections? You’re suddenly free to go a bit wild. Writing becomes enjoyable again: messy, consuming, real, thrilling and fun. ❐LUCY CORKHILL is a journalist who also runs an illustration business. She won the 2015 Bath Short Story Acorn Award and tweets @lucycorkhill. www.lucycorkhill.comSUBMISSION BOOTCAMPEMBRACING IMPERFECTION► Join a writing group It can be terrifying to share your work, but it’s a good way to break away from self-criticism► Submit some writing today Even if you don’t think it’s ‘good enough’► Fail quickly Perfectionists often don’t try things until they’ve discovered the ‘right way’. Allow yourself to make mistakes and learn from them. ► Don’t take criticism toheart For a perfectionist, even constructive criticism can be painful. Remind yourself it’s not personal.► Focus on your achievements Any submission is a triumph, even if it’s rejected.► Have some fun with your writing Try experimenting with different genres and styles; being a complete novice can be liberating.► Reassess your goals Make sure they are achievable – for you.► Don’t compare your work Another writer’s circumstances will always differ from yours, so no comparison is truly valid.‘perfectionism will keep you cramped and insane your whole life’TRY THISmslexia Mar/Apr/May 2017 51PHOTO: ANTON WATMAN / SHUTTERSTOCK

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