I enjoyed reading the beginning of "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott, which is a book, basically, about how to write. I was skeptical of the book at first — Rita Reed assigned it because she believed everything Lamott refers to about writing is as equally applicable to photography. And no one really wants to read "how to" books — but I was surprised by Lamott's fresh, fun writing style that makes you laugh as you read along.
In the reading for this week, what I most related to was Lamott's chapters about "perfectionism" and "shitty first drafts." The "shitty first drafts" reading spoke to me. Like Lamott, who hates writing the first draft, because first drafts are never good, I hate making my first edit. I hate, hate, hate it. And even if I don't hate my first edit, I hate making re-edits even more.
Because when you do an edit of a story, you get into a place, and you're just like, "yes, this is perfect." And you're happy and satisfied and it makes sense to you — because you know what the story is and you know what is going on. But then you show it to someone, and they say no — they prefer this picture over that picture. And no, they don't understand this frame at all (which is your favorite frame!). And it just goes on and on until your edit now is completely torn apart, and you realize all the pictures you should've taken but didn't — they're now so obvious! And you go through a sneaky hate spiral until you force yourself to sit down, again, and take these criticisms into account but make a compromise on what you think the story should really look like.
And then Lamott talks about "perfectionism." Now, I'm not really a perfectionist. I'm a clean freak, which you think would be the same thing, but when it comes to photography and editing and multimedia, I just get satisfied that it's good enough and don't want to analyze it anymore. Microcomposing is not my thing.
And so I loved when Lamott says, "Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground — you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness makes e think of held breath, of suspended animation, while writing needs to breathe and move."
I don't think I'm a messy photographer — that my frames are all crazy cluttered and messy. But I do know that my strength is capturing moments, and my composition comes very secondarily. And although I should fix my composition and not make Lamott's statement about perfectionism my mantra, my personal visual statement, it does very much characterize how I feel.
I think she's saying that perfectionism is good — it should be something that one desires to obtain. But it is an impossible goal, and if you at least shoot for it, you get an A for effort. Because if something were perfect, it would not reflect real life, which writing and photography both do — perfectionism makes it surreal and unreal and not like life at all. Life isn't perfect, after all.