Category Archives: Perfectionism

All Q, No A

I have spent a full month writing (but not finishing) the first short story of a planned collection of ten. (Eight, actually—I expect to ditch the weakest two. They don’t know it yet.) At this point, I can safely say I have more questions than answers. The opposite would probably be worse, though; having more answers than questions might feel like a multiple-choice test, and tests are stressful.

In the last four weeks, the following mysteries, among others, have presented themselves to me:

  1. QsHow much craft should go into a first draft? I’m a poet and I didn’t know it.
  2. Do they call it a draft because it has holes? Come on, I’m serious.
  3. Which is more important: sticking to the schedule, or taking the time to get it right? Within reason, as defined by a perfectionist.
  4. How much is too much backstory? Do you need a narrative providing the history of this question?
  5. Is it normal to crave frozen yogurt? Chocolate-vanilla swirl with rainbow sprinkles.
  6. Is it okay to write to entertain, rather than to be literary? My dream is to have a story published in a middle-school anthology.
  7. Literary magazines have length limits, so am I shooting myself in the foot (or accomplishing some other gory metaphor) by writing 5,000- to 6,000-word stories? Sounds like a job for an editor!
  8. How fully realized should the main character of a short story be? Same question for secondary characters. Screw the tertiary characters.
  9. How much time should I allow for research? Isn’t it easier to make facts up?
  10. How important is it to follow rules about writing? I’m not much of a lawbreaker.

I welcome answers to any of the above, and the sooner the better!


Heavily Metallic

The twinge of guilt lasted as long as it took the Kindle edition to download to my tablet. “Yet another book I will never find time to read,” I thought.  But I was pleased that the knowledge I desired was now safely in my library, if not yet in my brain. Besides, it was an important resource for my novel.

I had heard Jean Haner speak several times about her expertise in Chinese face reading, an ancient branch of Chinese medicine. Based on an issue of her excellent newsletter, I knew that my facial features indicated the personality type of Metal—the Perfectionist. The other four types are Water (the Dreamer), Wood (the Pioneer), Fire (the Fun-Lover), and Earth (the Nurturer).

The Wisdom of Your FaceHaner’s The Wisdom of Your Face remained unread for about a day. I went straight to the Metal chapter and was amazed to discover that I possessed all eight of the defining qualities presented for that element. Haner says, “If you have all of these characteristics, which is rare, you’ll know that you’re a very Metallic person!” These features included

  • Large nose
  • Prominent upper cheeks
  • Fine bone structure, small wrists and ankles
  • Pale complexion for racial heritage

If you don’t know how accurate these descriptors are, check out my photo on the About page.

Sample observations of Metal that resonated for me:

  • “Your precision and care also create success in professions such as surgeon, software designer, accountant, editor, and artist.” (I am an editor.)
  • “The worst thing someone can do to you is to offer some ‘constructive criticism.’ You’re already so tough on yourself that knowing someone else noticed when you did something wrong can be too much to bear.” (Excruciatingly true.)
  • “Metal is more affected by visual clutter than any other Element, but this doesn’t mean that you’re a total neat freak. Open any drawer or closet, and you may find a chaos of confusion.” (It’s like she has a camera in my house!)

The book goes into depth about the meanings of various facial features. For example, the major indicator of Metal on the face is the nose, which represents the capacity for power. Furthermore, the larger your nose, the more you’ll feel driven to achieve in your 40s—and the more powerful a decade it will be!

What a great spin on having a big schnoz.

Confessions of a First-Time Novelist


Having written the first 4,000 words of a novel, I will boldly (if grossly prematurely) call myself a first-time novelist. Making such an assertion, however, brings up insecurities about certain embarrassing qualities I possess—ones that would seriously seem to undermine the success of a budding author. If I contritely confess these shadowy aspects of my nature, perhaps I will be released from their consequences . . .

Confession #1: I don’t like to read fiction.

I usually can’t even make it past the first few words of the back cover copy. “On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri . . .” “Joe Rickman, head of CIA clandestine . . .” “It’s Christmas Eve . . .” Maybe my aversion to reading for pleasure stems from the fact that I read for a living. (I would venture to guess there are plenty of baristas who don’t drink coffee at home.) This is not to say I haven’t amassed a library of books I suspect would be entertaining (judging from their covers). I am not well-read past the Renaissance.

Confession #2: I don’t want to be a beginner.

That’s right, I vainly want to skip novice, apprentice, and journeyman, and go straight to master. I have been writing educational, nonfiction, and marketing materials for over 20 years, so undertaking a novel is like starting over. This idea extends to other areas of my life. For example, I started playing the guitar and rollerblading at the beach, but I didn’t get very far because being a beginner felt so yucky. (And the guitar was dangerously wide for the bike path.)

Confession #3: I am a procrastinator.

My procrastinating is directly related to my perfectionism. If I delay starting something that requires my immediate attention, I can’t do it imperfectly. Problem solved! To put the perfectionism in perspective, I fact-check my Facebook posts—against three sources. As a professional editor and proofreader, I get paid for rejecting anything less than perfect—so this tendency is constantly being reinforced. One thing I don’t procrastinate about is my perfectionism.

Any of these shameful character traits should rightly disqualify or prevent me from being a first-time novelist. On the other hand, Camus said, “A work of art is a confession,” so perhaps a little guilt is a good thing for a writer.