The Myth of Perfection

I read a wonderful little book by Kristine Kathryn Rusch titled The Pursuit of Perfection and How It Harms Writers.

She says, “I spend most of my time in the craft workshops that I teach repairing damage done years, sometimes decades, earlier. That damage isn’t deliberately malicious. It comes from the assumption that perfect stories not only exist, but can be revised into existence.”

Hmm. I’m guilty of this faulty thinking — that if I revise a short story one more time, I’ll remove any weak dialogue or plot elements. My characters will shine with authenticity. My grammar and punctuation will be stellar without a comma out of place. The story will be practically perfect in every way.

I’m guilty of not showing anyone my manuscript (or blog post) because it might contain errors, those little gremlins that lurk unseen until you click “Publish.”

I’m guilty of not finishing a piece (or worse, not starting at all) because I’m afraid I can’t get it “right.” I become paralyzed by the fear of failure.

Of course my writing is far from perfect. It will always contain errors. It could always be better.

Here’s Rusch again:

When you strive for perfection in your writing, you’re dooming yourself to perpetual failure.”

Producing an error-free story isn’t the goal.

Voltaire quote perfect

I should aim to write a story that touches the reader and says something meaningful rather than one that follows all the rules at the expense of art. Like the pianist who plays Chopin with precision, every note spot-on, but his music lacks feeling. It is lifeless.

If I wait until a piece is flawless, I won’t put it out there at all. In fact, I’m tempted to spend more time on this post. If I worked on it for a few weeks, it might be almost perfect. I could make it funnier, clearer, deeper…

“Set a limit on revisions, set a limit on drafts, set a time limit…Then release your book on an unsuspecting public. The book will never be perfect.”

But it can be good. And that’s enough.

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