Perfection. Whenever we create something, we want it to be good. No. We want it to be great. Well, let’s face it, if other people are going to read our creative words, we really want them to be perfect!
And quite right too. But don’t let perfection hold you back.
A story that is often raised in writers’ groups is that of the perfection of editing, when a writer once reportedly said:
“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning and took out a comma. In the afternoon – well, I put it back again.”
I say reportedly because it may have been Oscar Wilde who said this. Then again, it could have been Gustave Flaubert. And there are claims online that it may even have been Robert H Sherard. Or Mark Twain. Or … (For further confusion, check out http://quoteinvestigator.com/2015/10/25/comma/)
But at some point a decision had to be made about that comma. Who knows? Whoever said it may have anguished for years after it was published about whether they’d made the right decision over putting that flipping comma back. When it comes to punctuation, a comma can completely change the way a reader interprets a piece of text, so it’s only right that the writer anguishes over which interpretation they want readers to take away from their words.
Had the writer held back, waiting for that perfection, that poem may never have been published. Perfection can stop a project from moving forward. There’s editing. And then there’s titivating.
For some writing projects, deadlines intervene. If I have to get an article to an editor by a set date and time, then I work hard to deliver that piece to the best I can make it, by that deadline. In my eyes, when I submit it, it is perfect.
But there have been times when I read the published piece and wished I could have rephrased a sentence. Or I noticed that the editor has tweaked the opening line, turning it from a great sentence into an awesome one. And I wish I’d come up with those words. Then, in my eyes, what I submitted was not perfect. And I wish it had been.
But had I held out for sheer perfection, I’d have missed my deadline. The editor would not have been happy. There would have been consequences. Deadlines can make perfection an impractical destination.
If you don’t have a deadline, and are constantly titivating with your work, ask yourself: is perfection holding you back? Will your work ever be published if you spend all morning taking out one comma and all afternoon putting it back, and then repeating the process the following day?
I’m not saying we can be slap-dash with our work, far from it. But if we’re on the 293rd edit then perhaps we need to start asking ourselves: is it perfection we’re striving for, or are we just scared of submitting our work? For it doesn’t matter how perfect or imperfect our work is, it will NEVER be published until it’s submitted somewhere for consideration.