A Little Help or: How I Learned To Stop Being A Perfectionist and Love My Craft

Tres chic.

I never considered myself an artistic type. I don’t wear berets, I don’t drink to excess, I don’t smoke delicious French cigarettes in cartoonishly long holders (though, I may start). I don’t live like a hermit in some dusty loft, go missing for days on end, and then erupt on the scene with a new series of awe-inspiring works that revolutionize my genre. I don’t get photographed in the society pages, I don’t moan about existentialism. I’m not THAT type.

As much as it hurts my feelings, life isn’t a cartoon. No artist is THAT type. Some artists drink, some artists smoke, some artists moan about existentialism. So do some school teachers, some accountants, some doctors.

The tired idea of an artistic temperament has to go, obviously, but some artist-type weaknesses have remained.

I don’t like asking for help.

I expect that I will generate work of unbelievable genius in some kind of blessed vacuum. I think that once my work is committed to media, it will be a stunning example of the best of me, the most pure vision.

I, somehow, think I should do that alone.

I am wrong, so wrong. Painfully mistaken. Destructively incorrect.

Yes, I said “destructively”. The idea that good or great works will always happen without help is not only unlikely, it’s a miserable amount of pressure to put upon yourself. Once you start thinking that your work should be perfected alone, you cut off the most valuable resource you have for good production, be it painting, writing, singing, drawing, any craft or creation.

Don’t let yourself get caught in the perfectionist trap, unable to progress or complete work because you are at the end of your own limit. And don’t be ashamed if you hit your own limit earlier than you think you should.

If you look hard and ask the right questions, there is a whole world of people out there willing to help you improve, continue, and finish. There are artists with more skill, or writers with more practice, or just interested amateurs with an eye for talent and technique.  There are more people out there who want to see you succeed than want to see you fail.

Don’t believe me? Try it.

I did.

I have a writing partner whose ideas stir my soul in a way I thought existed only in love stories. I’ve written more in the two years of our partnership than I did in twenty years before it, and the work is better than I could imagine. I have two artists working on beautiful images for our book. Oliver asked if they would help. They were inspired by our vision, and they’re excited by our enthusiasm. Our editor and my new favorite person is someone I didn’t even know two months ago. She’s invested in seeing us accomplish our goal, and she’s willing to do anything to help us get there.

All I needed was a little help,  the guts to ask for it, and the good grace to accept it.

Your work doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be a “real artist” (your choice on the beret or not) to be respected for your work. Don’t wait until it’s “just right” to ask your friends, your family, or your old teachers for support in your endeavor. Ask for help, inspiration, critique, ideas, ask for anything you need to get your amazing vision to come to light.

And if no one answers? If you ask for help and all you hear is the echo of your own voice?

Don’t worry. We’re here to inspire you and encourage you. We believe in what you can do.



  1. Yes I agree that you can’t be defined or be an artist solely by your exterior and your quirks. I think you’re saying that you needed to find a critic[s] you can trust – almost a mentor. Many of us suffer from lack of input – critical assessment can’t always come from us. It is incestuous – and although brilliance can occur in that arena – it is less likely. It is why art groups and co-writers exist. I have had another artist help me in the past. It is hard to find mentors. As a teacher I am one, for many. My students often bring a fresh look at things that I try to use in my work.
    Good reminders.

  2. I’m rethinking the beret, though. I might make that my whole Christmas list. One billion berets.

    If you’re lucky enough to find a mentor, hang on to them for dear life. Know the difference between a good mentor and someone who just thinks they know more than you. Look at what they produce. They should be as willing to accept critique from you as they are to provide it for your work. A good mentor can defend their particular choices without anger, and use the discussion as a learning tool. A good mentor wants to see you improve, not just score points off of your admiration.

    If you’re generous enough to BE a mentor, well, you’re amazing. Keep finding those little lost lambs, and be a good shepherd for them. Everyone needs help, and anything you can do for them is appreciated. Know that you’ll be remembered a long, long time and that every day, you’re changing that person’s life.

    A personal note: Wendy Sanchez, my very first mentor, is someone remember so fondly. I haven’t seen or heard from her in ages, don’t even know for sure where she is in this big old world. I hope like hell she’s still out there trying to teach young writers. I hope she hasn’t given up.

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