Small Steps Forward by Katherine Orfinger

Small Steps Forward

Katherine Orfinger

I am a writer at heart. I have been making up stories since I was six years old and learned how to hold a pencil. Over the years, I’ve used writing as a coping skill by keeping extensive journals, writing poems as a way to work out emotions, and becoming more comfortable with things that have happened in my life by turning them into stories. Writing is also a huge source of validation for me. My poems and stories have earned me good grades, praise from parents, friends, and teachers, even awards and a few publications. I often jokingly claim that writing is “the one thing I’m good at.” While sometimes that seems true, it is more accurate to say that writing is the one thing I am most passionate about, and the thing I am most confident in my ability to do.

            In order to be a good writer, one must also be a good editor. I was taught to write with “concision and precision,” meaning that I should eliminate extra words, sentences, even paragraphs in the interest of making my point as clear as possible. I felt that if I was going to be able to tell people that I am a talented writer, I needed to back it up with impressive work. I edited relentlessly. Nothing was never finished, only due. Despite getting A’s on papers and creative writing assignments, they weren’t as good as I wanted them to be. I considered myself a serious writer, and held myself to seriously high standards.

            Still, I denied allegations that I was a perfectionist. My room was messy, my handwriting sloppy. I called myself lazy because of my myriad missing and undone homework assignments, essays I refused to write because they were uninteresting, worksheets I copied at the last minute because I couldn’t be bothered to do them. I never studied for tests and didn’t make the grades I wanted. I procrastinated on everything, even getting my driver’s license. A perfectionist would have done things and done them right, I thought. I, on the other hand, was merely lazy. What I didn’t realize was that perfectionism is the desire to be perfect, not necessarily attaining that “perfection.”

            There have been very few times in my life when I haven’t been writing something. When I am lacking inspiration, I go back and edit old work, just to feel productive. When I edit, I feel confident and authoritative, words I do not often use to describe myself. Yet it is easy to let this power go to my head. Rather than praising myself, or even just noticing things I have done well in my piece, I tear myself down. I go on and on as I rip apart my piece until I’m screaming at myself for incorrect comma usage. But I’m not a perfectionist. Oh no, not me.

            Yet when it comes right down to it, I hold myself to an unrealistically high standard in all aspects of my life. At first, it was all about my body. I needed that perfect figure, clear skin, pretty hair. I lost weight, but didn’t gain any happiness. I strived for straight A’s, for a perfect rating at theater competitions, for the highest award in every writing contest I entered. I did not get straight A’s. I did not even perform in the musical I was cast in. I got dozens of rejection emails from publications where I had submitted work. I wanted to be the best friend and girlfriend I could possibly be. I put other people’s needs before mine, I did things I didn’t want to do in an effort to please other people. I didn’t gain friends, and I wasn’t any happier. In fact, I was more miserable than ever. I was dissatisfied with my body, my grades, my performance in choir and theater, and my relationships. Nothing was ever good enough. I was trying to edit my life like I would edit a piece of writing.

            I wanted the control I have over my writing in all aspects of my life. If only I could have forced people to like me, to be happy with my efforts, to see that I was trying my best. What I didn’t realize was that many people were already satisfied with who I was. I assumed that because I was so unhappy with myself, everyone else felt the same way about me. The goal of recovery is not only to have a healthy relationship with food, but to have a healthy relationship with yourself. It took me a long time to realize that it is not healthy to criticize everything I do. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve my performance in school and improve the quality of my writing, I found that it’s equally important to acknowledge that I’ve tried my best on something and let that be enough.

            I am still writing, and I will always be a writer. However, these days I am a lot more relaxed on the page. I allow myself to make mistakes, to write things just because they feel good, not because I expect to publish them. This acceptance is gradually spreading into other areas of my life. I am learning that goals don’t have to be inflexible. Yes, I strive for greatness. I want to write a novel that touches people’s lives. But for now, I’m satisfying myself with character sketches and rough drafts. And that’s okay.

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