Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mask of Perfection

I'm an expert mask wearer. In fact, I've spent a large portion of my life wearing masks.I have them in every color, for every season, and I never run out.

When I was younger, I learned the art of mask wearing so no one would know all the pain in my life. If it could be hidden then it didn't exist. If I could smile, could keep going, could convince one more person that everything was "perfect," then I succeeded and could fall into a deep, comforting sleep for one more night.

Then, of course, you grow up.

You learn that masks aren't all they're cracked up to be. They're stuffy, hot and truthfully, very lonely. No one is perfect. In fact, perfection is subjective and quite possibly, doesn't exist at all.

I don't know about anyone else, but for me, perfection is one of those masks that's so easy to put on. Even my own job told me once to "Be a duck on a pond." They encouraged me to have this calm, everything is perfect and peaceful way about me on the outside--even if underneath the surface I'm kicking my feet just trying to stay afloat. In other words: be perfect. So I do that every single day at work.

But you know, even as a writer I feel like sometimes I have to wear a mask. For some reason, it's almost like we can't be discouraged. Like we can't feel like other people are succeeding and we're just stuck here in the nowhere/in-between. No bad days are allowed for us. No pouting, no complaining, no whining about where we are. We're just supposed to tweet fun things, be happy and perky so everyone likes us because everyone has to like us or we'll never succeed, keep talking about how awesome it is get to write, about how trials make us stronger and all the things we're learning. We have to keep up the smile, when sometimes all we want to do is cry over a bag of cookies in our pjs under the covers.

We're not alone. Once we move past this inbetween stage, we'll still face the same trials. I have published friends who get discouraged. Just like everyone else, they have bad days. Sometimes things don't go the way they planned or a book deal falls through last minute or they read six negative reviews in the same hour. They're not supposed to be discouraged either, they're supposed to wear the mask of perfection. Most people in life have to wear a mask at some point; we have to hide how we're really feeling.

There are three really important things to know about wearing masks. 

First, they're exhausting. 
Second, they're not always pretty. 
Third, you can take them off.

"Wait? Take off my 'perfect writer all of life is good and I am awesome' mask? I can't do that. People will know that I'm not having a fantastic time, that I'm sad or discouraged and my super fun tweets are super fake! I can't."

But, you know, you can. And I think sometimes we have to. If we ever want to truly succeed at this writing thing, if we want to create relateable, vulnerable characters for readers to connect with, then I believe we too must be connectable. That means sharing our weaknesses as well as our strengths. That means creating real friendships with other writers, with people we can talk to who understand. That doesn't mean we bash everyone and everything, or start being rude to everyone just because we're having a bad time. (Vulnerability and meanness are two different things.)

The mask must come off and in the end, you must be yourself.

In fact, let me start.

Sometimes writing is really hard and I wake up and wonder what the heck I am doing. I wonder if I could find something else that makes me just as happy and saves me a lot of heartache--but I know deep down that I can't. I watch people succeed and I always wonder when that will happen for me. Then I work harder. I watch TV when I'm depressed about it, because it's an easier place to go than to a book. When I tell people I'm a writer, I hate that look they get that--that "way to waste your life" look. I hate answering the question "Are you published?" and "how long will it be until that happens." Because you know what, I love writing. Even on the hard days. Especially when I overcome the hard days. I love sharing things here and meeting other people who have hard days. I love how I can say all that without condemnation because I'm sure that I am not alone.

At least, I hope I'm not alone. 

What about you? Are you wearing a mask of perfection? Do you feel like you have to hide sometimes in the writing life? Is there someone in your life that you don't have to be perfect for? Can we all just take off the masks for a minute?


  1. I wear a lot of masks too, and not just for my writer world. I do it in real life too (which is unfortunate, but what can I say?)
    I worry about complaining too much either on twitter or on my blog and God knows I have A LOT of complaining to do. Maybe this year I will follow in your steps and open up a little bit. Drop a few of my masks (can't drop all of them at once sadly).

  2. I think the sweetest part of writing, for me so far, has been *after* a hard day--when I've made it through that and can still smile and love writing.

    (Great post, D~)

  3. Your post makes me grateful to have friends (you, especially) that I know have seen what's underneath my masks and still love me anyway! :)

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