Photographer: Estate of JG Ballard /The British Library
Do you ever have times when you hold back from starting something because you want “the thing” to be perfect? You don’t want to commit to paper until the phrase is perfectly honed (or whatever your creative equivalent is). "The thing” sits in your head and you never actually do the work.
If the search for perfection is holding you back creatively, may I recommend a visit to the British Library and their Treasures collection?
It is a fascinating and awe inspiring collection of documents: the Magna Carta; Freud’s “Power of Dreams”; John Osborne’s prosaic notebook holding the first, handwritten draft of “The Entertainer”... All these are worth a visit under any circumstances.
However if you are being blocked by your quest for perfection, I would direct your attention to 3 pieces:
Beryl Bainbridge’s notebook for “An Awfully Big Adventure”. Written unevenly on lined paper in a black scrawl with at least 3 sizes of script, the text is annotated, amended, asterisked and revised in a seemingly haphazard way. This is not what you would necessarily expect when you read Ms Bainbridge’s effortless prose in the final version of this Booker Prize nominated novel.
In the same case, there is a neatly typed first page of Chapter 1 of J G Ballard’s “Crash”. However, you can barely read the type as it is almost obscured by at least 2 colours of biro where Ballard changed ideas, wrote detailed notes in the margins only to scribble them through again and sometimes scrawled STET as he goes back to his original idea .
And finally, you can see Beethoven’s score for the Violin Sonata in G Major. Beethoven used to plan his music in snippets in his notebooks and compose the score in his head before putting it down perfectly on paper. Except that even his fine, delicate script is defaced with blocks of black where he has savagely attacked his own genius, revising perfection even at the last.
And the moral to all this? Don’t wait until it is perfect before you start. Just begin, commit to paper and let it flow. Just because it now has taken on a physical presence doesn’t mean it is finished, it is just a work in progress.
Take it from Beryl, J.G. and Ludwig.
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