We all have, to varying degrees, exacting standards. Sometimes they're uniform, so no matter what the situation calls for, the standard remains unchanged. Other times, they come in multiple shades. In other words, a given situation will in turn dictate what particular standard to use.
A majority of the time, the exacting standards that we hold, helps to get the job done, and done right. But what about those times when adherence to these cause nothing but grief, consternation and the wanting of taking yourself out to the woodshed. What do you do then? Do you continue to blindly reach for the standards, no matter what the consequences? Or do you bend a little?
Today's post will serve a dual purpose: One, it will show that sometimes holding yourself to these same exacting standards that you inflict on everyone else, is at the very least, counter productive, and the most, self destructive. Two: it will show you the positive outcome of holding yourself to those same standards.
Writing, like most things that are based in creativity, lends itself very badly to exacting standards. No matter what you write, be it a short story or a blog post, applying any kind of standard beyond the bare minimum is like playing Russian roulette with four bullets: You just can't win.
Let me give you few examples of how applying one's exacting standards on one's self can potentially set you back weeks in writing. In the span of about one week, I wrote then nuked, two blog posts, that either didn't meet my standards of excellence or my standard of taste.
The first one had a catchy title, to which I'll probably use again in the future, called "The Basement of My Adultery". Whereas the title immediately implied that the content of the post was about committing adultery in the basement of my house, the reality was much more mundane.
Books. The post was about my bookcase and the contents contained within. While the idea in principle was good (what I read), the execution was fatally flawed. It started out promising, but wavered at the middle and sunk like Peppermint Patty's ability to get above a D-. In essence, it did not meet the exacting standards that I have for my writing.
The second one was a little more difficult to nuke, and in hindsight, I shouldn't had done it. What I should of done was postpone the schedule date for another week or two, in order to think about it some more.
The blog post was about controversial and tasteless music, and while it met all of my key criteria (lively, witty, well researched and provocative), by the time I finished writing it, it crossed (at least in my eyes) over from being provocative to highly offensive.
I portrayed the post as a typical conversation that a father might have with his son, if he happened to see what his son was doing, was something he didn't particularly care for.
In the conversation, I managed to skillfully weave in the following references and songs (plus a great bunch of links to boot):
1} Elvis Costello/Radio, Radio
2} The Boomtown Rats/I Don't Like Mondays
3} Ram Jam/Black Betty
4} Ledbelly/Black Betty
5} The Dead Kennedys/I Fought The Law
6} The Sex Pistols with Ronnie Biggs/Belsen Was A Gas (along with a description of a truly tasteless album cover)
After I'd gotten it completed, I started thinking about the last part of the post (The Sex Pistols) and came to the conclusion that a lot of people would find that particular reference specifically and the post in general, highly offensive. So I nuked it.
I may bring it back eventually, in some kind of other form, but for now it will remain a classic example of something not quite meeting my particular expectations.
Writing short stories is another example of something where my standards can clash with the final product. Whenever I start a story, most of the time it would go off on a rambling tangent. And more often than not, I can recover by reining it in, narrowing the focus (or rearranging the focus), then relaunch it to a satisfactory conclusion.
A case in point would be a short story that I started about week after I wrote this piece of non-fiction. I had gotten about two pages written when I reluctantly gave up on it, simply because I wrote myself into a corner. About several months later (June), having the need of another story for a planned mini-story arc (more on that in a future post), I took it out, dusted it off and after about twenty minutes of staring at it, I was able to jump start my brain and bring it to a satisfactory conclusion.
By the same token, I've had stories in which they started promising, but quickly fizzled simply because I wrote myself into a corner with no hope of getting out (have five like that, but I may be able to salvage one of them for future use).
Now that I've given you quite a few examples of how your standards can inflict near mortal wounds, this entire blog post is the positive outcome of meeting my exacting standards.
How? Well, for one thing, It took me four days to write this out because I did it with pen and paper. As most of you know, writing by hand is my preferred method of doing things. When I can, I do. When I can't, I don't. For multiple others, it is long without boring the reader to tears (in other words, informative), witty, well researched, self deprecating, thought provoking and questioning.
And most importantly, it answers the question that this entire post was about: exacting standards can be detrimental to one's writing if one treats it like O.C.D.
If not, why not?