This Post is Dedicated to My Perfectionist

The past month I’ve been in writing hibernation. It has been awesome. Although, I have had to cancel out of a few friend gatherings and other prior commitments, I knew that it was not only a necessity (with a full time job) but it is what I wanted. It didn’t seem fair to be somewhere else when I was worried about the structure of the paper, or, the fact that I waaay too much to say. I had spent so many months researching, that I forgot that I wasn’t writing a 150 page treatise on the cultivation of the perfect man in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables Series, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Stephenie Meyer‘s Twilight Series, (now you know my secret paper topic) but a twenty minute discussion that rounds itself out to probably about twelve pages – maybe shorter if I want to show some videos.

As you know, my proposal to speak at the 2010 L.M. Montgomery conference, “L.M. Montgomery and the Matter of Nature.” was accepted late last year. (Check it out, I’m on page six.) I’ve spent the last four months heavily researching for it. Keeping to my strict time lines, I hit the month of writing with a week to spare. Yay me!

As I’ve been working on the paper, I’ve been struggling with the fine balance of when it is appropriate to use my inner Perfectionist and when she might just be getting in my way. Admittedly, I am FREAKED OUT by the idea that I am one of the few non-academic speakers at the conference. I wonder what the reaction will be when I go into some, what some could say, “controversial territory.” I pause at the “luck” of having two of the people I need to quote in my paper being there. One being a conference organizers and the other the chair when I talk.

The last time I wrote an academic paper, excluding the three-pages I put together for VCFA, was in 2003. It wasn’t a paper, but a 140 page thesis on the construction of Joan of Arc in contemporary children’s literature. I spent five years steeped in the world of mediaevalism, Joan of Arc, literary theory, gender theory and historiography. My emotional state went from sheer bliss at the thought of finding the perfect connection, to utter despair when my thesis supervisor told me to go back six weeks before the deadline to find some more information on the Hundred Years War. I thought that she hated me. I swore up and down that she didn’t understand me, and that she tore down my hopes and dreams of a brilliant academic career.

When it was all over, I thought that I would leave it all behind. But this last month I’ve seen how much fun writing a good argument can be. Although I enjoy spouting a few ideas in the context of a blog, there was something that was familiar and comforting (and aggravating) writing the paper. I felt that spark when passion is given into.

You see, I was wrong. My thesis supervisor was teaching me to be a better writer. Although, it really was “hell on earth”, as the cliche goes, like most trips through the fiery pits, you come out a little bruised and broken, but with deeper knowledge than you had going in.

Right now, the Perfectionist sounds like my thesis supervisor. She is reminding me of the specific tools needed to craft the perfect argument. She is telling me to make sure that I document all sources. She making sure that my writing is tight and that there is nothing superfluous – even if it sounds fun because with twelve pages, there isn’t a lot of room for superfluousness. So, thank you Shannon McSheffrey, you may have picked and prodded through my chapters until I thought nothing I did was worthy, but I see now the brilliance of your ways.

Here is where my Perfectionist comes up and asks: Is it? Is it worthy of an academic conference? Will it be picked and prodded by those in the audience and the person chairing the talk? Will I have the answers?

My answer to her is: “Yes?”

Last weekend, I spent three days outside with a pile of books, a pen and paper and wrote. I let my Perfectionist help my “stream of consciousness writer gal” find her footing. Although it is “fun” to show the monster mashups, is it really necessary? Although you want to show the links with Bridget Jones’s Diary, Lost in Austen and Anne and Gilbert the Musical, is there room? Three sections became two. The beginning expanded and the end decreased. And, whenever I got all excited about the possibilities I heard, “Ehm, do we really need to go there now????!!!”

As I read over the pages on the bus this week, I saw the results. Although it isn’t perfect yet, I saw the cohesiveness of where it was going and it made me pause and appreciate the work that I had done.

It is still too long though…

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About Melanie J. Fishbane

My novel, MAUD: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery was published in 2017 through Penguin Random House on April 25, 2017. I hold an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Here I talk about my writing process, things I love, and creative people who inspire me.
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