Thursday, July 12, 2012

Never Perfect

There have been several posts as of late discussing the long overdue idea that your work doesn't have to be perfect.  In fact, it'll never be perfect because we can always find a way to make it better.  There's always one more tweak we can make.  Unfortunately, it's this relentless drive towards perfection that can hurt writers.

Now before you get all in a tizzy, I'm not saying that writers shouldn't try to improve their work or hone their craft, but there comes a point at which you have to let your baby go.  Voltaire, in his moral poem La Bégueule, noted that perfect is often the enemy of good.  Noted philosophers like Aristotle and Confucius have argued against extremism in any endeavor and in favor of the Golden Mean, a philosophy of achieving a desirable endstate without going to the extremes of demanding perfection.

Good writers tend to be perfectionists.  We agonize over every word, trying to make sure that we've achieved just the right level of nuance so that the reader obtains maximum benefit and doesn't waste time better spent on other parts of the story.  We play with phrases, torture ourselves over plot lines and character development, and twist ourselves into pretzels trying to evoke emotion in our readers, and we wonder the whole time if our efforts will be appreciated by those who read our stories(half the time, we're convinced they won't be).  This level of dedication is what makes us such good storytellers, and it separates the true author from the hack.

However, this can lead to a story that no one but the writer sees.  We'll get so scared that our work could be better if only we made just one more adjustment, that we don't let anyone else look at it.  We convince ourselves that it can't possibly be good because there's always something more to fix.

In my family, this is know as "driving my wife crazy."  "Just let me read it," is a cry I've heard more than once.  Sometimes we seem so concerned with validation that nothing but total perfection will do.
I'm here to say what those other bloggers have said - it's okay if you think your work isn't perfect.  In fact, it's preferable for two reasons:
1.  Someone besides yourself finally gets to read your story;
2.  Your ego won't be quite so crushed when you receive the inevitable criticism.

Number two on that list is just as important as number one.  Every story, no matter how imaginative or well thought out, is going to have flaws.  If you've spent every piece of your soul making it just right, and you finally become convinced it couldn't get any better, you're going to be devastated when someone points out flaws.

I'm not talking about flaws in grammar and punctuation.  Those are easily fixable.  I'm talking about in the story itself.  Anyone who has ever watched a movie or read a book has come up with a way to make it better.  This is due to individual tastes and is as inevitable as the sun rising in the east.  Sure, your loved ones may try to be easy and just respond with, "Perfect!  Couldn't possibly be any better," but others who aren't related to you are going to make suggestions, no matter how much they liked it.  This is going to be when you'll either begin your new career as a serial killer or go off to cry in your closet and never see the sunshine again.
We have to shelve our egos and insecurities sometimes and put ourselves out there.  This means accepting that things could be better.  However, above the 80% "good" mark, the amount of time required to reach each additional point isn't worth it.  It also means that we have to do the unthinkable - accept that not everyone is going to like our work, and isn't this where a lot of our own insecurity comes from?  Don't most writers want the entire world to adore them and fell they'll just die if people think we're less than perfect?

Put yourself out there.  Allow yourself the luxury of not being blemish free, with the understanding that it's your best effort.  In the end, this is what separates professional writers who can make a living at this craft and those who have a nice hobby no one but themselves will enjoy.

Go on - be imperfect.

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