Tuesday, November 18, 2014

You're Not Perfect, And You never Will Be

Practice makes perfect ... or so claims the common refrain. But it seems to me that perfection is a an arbitrary assessment at best. Sure you can score 10 out of 10 on a test. Maybe even a 100 out of a 100 but does that mean you have perfect knowledge of a subject. Not really. It means you knew as much as the test taker expected you to know.

I say perfection is an mythological concept. Bring you arguments if you have one but I say it is an illusion, a label no different than the genre classifications we slap on the books we read, the music we listen too, the movies we watch. It makes us content to say this fits here. this is the best I can do therefore I did a perfect job.

It's bullshit.

Most will say a baseball pitcher threw a perfect game if he gave up no hits and no walks. The more stringent might say perfection is 81 pitches or 3 strikes to three hitters in each of nine innings. But I say even that is not perfection because those strikes rely upon an umpire deciding those pitches were strikes.

But I digress thereby proving this post (or any of my others) isn't perfect either.

Now in some occupations such as medicine and law there is not even the claim of perfection. It is widely accepted for a doctor to have a medical practice. Same for lawyers. Their best effort is considered good enough. Odd considering the gravity of their actions.

Authors however are not usually afforded this same leniency. Not from many readers. And certainly not from themselves.

I'm fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to sit and talk with dozens if not hundreds of authors over the years. Most have at some point mentioned the funny letters or emails they get from readers pointing out the missing comma from paragraph 3 on page 189. Or the one time the word hear appeared instead of the correct version here in Chapter 18. Don't get me wrong it is always nice to here (see what I did there?) from readers and it is nice that they care enough to take time out of their day to not only read but comment. However, isn't it odd that people will choose a handful of erroneous words to point out rather than the 98,000 words the author got right?

By the way of you missed 2 or all the way up to 494 answers on a 98,000 word test and still finish with a 99.5% which would be rounded to a 100 thereby scoring the illusionary mark of academic perfection.

But again I digress. 

There are lots of pressures to be perfect for writers. From audiences wanting that perfect ending to a series. To editors wanting your books produced on a perfect marketing schedule. Agents wanting that perfect premise that will make the book easy to sell.

But those are simply the pressures of the business and authors would love to achieve those things themselves. They are motivation. Drive. The very heart of our ambition and love of writing.

However ambition has a dark side. And for me as well as a lot of authors the pursuit of perfection can be a steep impediment to progress. I can't sit down and write until I think of that perfect premise that will make my agent squeal with glee. Or finally land me that agent or book deal.

Then the roadblock grows taller.I can;t really get started until I come up with that perfect first sentence that will grab a reader by the throat.

And wow I finally got started. I have a couple of damn good chapters but this manuscript needs a title. I can't possible write another word until I think of the perfect title.

You got your title and now you are 8 chapters in but that beautiful scene in Chapter 2 that you though was perfect no longer works because the character you thought was going to be a bartender is now the director of East Tawakoni's MADD chapter.

 Hours ... days ... weeks go by and you still are trying to figure out a perfect way to save Chapter 2 when you decide she used to be a bartender but then she served too many Rum and Cokes to an out of work accountant who plowed into a minivan full of kids on his way home.

Your character escaped prosecution, but not her own guilt and now she is a crusader for the cause. Yeah it's perfect.

Wait no it's not. Your swarthy 2nd generation Cuban American hero inherited his wealth from the family's rum business.

No wait it is perfect. Star crossed lovers at odds over their pasts.

No it will never work because if she falls for him and his blood money your central protagonist is nothing but a hypocrite

That's when the dark thoughts creep in .... This whole book is crap. I am a hack. I can't do this.

I think all writers hit this point on nearly every lengthy project. Maybe even on the short ones. The key is to accept these thoughts as part of the natural process. To maintain your faith in yourself even when things are not perfect. Writing is an art that must be practiced, but even then it will never be perfect.  




Mark Terry said...

Yup. As the saying goes, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good--or even the very good.

The longer I'm in this game, the more I realize that if I aim for perfect, and, gulp, even expect GREAT all the time, nothing will get done. I am for great, am delighted with very good, and often satisfied with good.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

They say that the most difficult profession is classical pianist because everyone is listening for wrong notes.

the walking man said...

Now Travis you took 901 words to say

"writers commit suicide more than any other type of artists, because their quest for perfection makes them nuts."

My quest for perfection ended when I drove a Porsche 928 and got an erection at 142 MPH. Tell me what could compare to that in the realm of perfection?

B.E. Sanderson said...

Great post! I think the readers who point out the miniscule mistakes are saying more about themselves than about the book they're reading.

I think Vince Lombardi had it right when he said "Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence." I'm trying to catch excellence here. ;o)

Charles Gramlich said...

I used to worry more about that than I do now. I thing I've become a bit sanguine about it all these days. About time.

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