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Perfecting Imperfection

If there is one thing I am good at, it’s imperfection. Especially when it comes to writing.


When I was getting my MFA in Nonfiction Writing, I used to labor for hours over Every. Single. Word. I even labored over the fonts, trying out different ones to see which best reflected the mood of the piece I was writing. If I could have reached into the page and grabbed the words out, I would have turned them ever so slightly to see how the sunlight reflected off their varying angles. After I was done exploring each word with my eyes and hands, I may have grabbed one and popped it into my mouth like the small, smooth stones I would suck on as a child.

There was a time when I carried a silky black stone in my pocket everywhere I went. I would rub it, so warm and smooth, on my cheek, then discreetly slip it into the warm, concave center of my tongue, as if that very spot of my body was built for this purpose. To hold stones.

I would roll it around my mouth, gently holding it between my teeth while marveling at the hollow clacking sound it made when I gently bit down, so satisfying: Clack Clack Clack. It filled something in me, holding this stone in my mouth. It centered me, grounded me, made me feel whole, complete and connected to the Earth. A part of Her was so clearly inside of Me.

I haven’t done that for a long time now. Not since I found the written word.

You see, I was also born with a place inside me for words. We all are. “We are born with the basic, foundational knowledge about the sound patterns of human languages” [which are] “a product of an inborn biological instinct, very much like birdsong,” (Science Daily; Berent, 2014) I interpret it this way: we are born with the capacity to speak and understand every language on Earth. Over time, if a certain language isn’t used, that ability retreats, atrophies and eventually is gone. We can learn the language later, but will never be able to pronounce the words like a native speaker.

The sounds go into our ears, but our mouths are unable to return them.

We all know the saying “practice makes perfect,” so why in the world would we practice being imperfect? Especially when we’re told we have to fight against it—that it is somehow not “good.” This is the message we get from a very early age: that we are so very flawed and that the desired state is “better” and we are to settle for no less than perfection! We are rarely told we are perfect as we are. And that translates to everything we do—it is no surprise when it leaks into our writing life.

So why do we have to practice imperfection? Think of it as a skill rather than a lacking. The more we practice being how we are, being in harmony with our nature, the more freedom we will have to be who we are and to express ourselves as we like.

So how do we practice imperfection? The practice comes in the allowing—I allow myself to be imperfect without thinking it is wrong. The practice is to get the words “right” and “wrong” out of my psyche because there is no room for creativity to flourish between them.

Allowing for imperfection creates space for all the thousands of words that come flooding to me when I have a rush of inspiration. Sometimes they come at me from all angles and I madly jot them down in all different directions so I have to turn the page around and upside down to read them!

So rather than going to my norm of “overwhelm” that perfection so eagerly invites—or that frozen, deer-in-the-headlights feeling I can get when I sit before the blank page, or even a page filled with my first-draft words—I allow them to be. To simply be as they are, these words—my words. And in this allowing, I can breathe. In this allowing, I am connecting with that place in me made for words. Even the place in me that came beforewords. The place that was empty and ready for sound.

Maybe it’s this place in me that is yearning for these 3-dimensional words. The written words are concrete. They lie there on the page, but I also find them lacking. Yes, they can create everything and yet, I can’t hold them. They hold me.

I can let them take up space in me again, and then place them on the page, one by one. And let them be.

So, I am practicing imperfection. I am imperfect—we all are imperfectly perfect. And perfectly imperfect. And my words? Your words? Let them fly! Let them out however they come to you in the creative process. Write first, then edit. Take it from someone who used to spend five hours writing one page!

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