Ask any writer about their best work and they’ll gush about it with pride, how long it took to achieve and the countless hours, tears, sweat and frustrations that went into it. Ask them if that now means it’s perfect and they’ll tell you no.
Perfect writing, the kind of writing an author can read through once it’s on the bookshelf, once it’s won awards, once it’s been around for years and not want to make any changes to is pretty much non-existent. For them, they haven’t achieved perfection. What they have achieved is a piece of work that is good enough, maybe even as near to perfect as it can get, and that is what writers should be aiming for. Perfection in writing is a problem, and here’s why…
It’s Not Achievable
You can aim for good, you can aim for great, you can even aim for critically applauded, million dollar selling, change prompting, mankind bettering words wrapped in a book forged from gold, and it still wouldn’t be perfect. Why? Because perfect is not achievable. It will never be perfect to everyone, it’ll most likely never be perfect to the person who wrote it. What it will be is good enough. Good enough for the writer to release into the world, and good enough for readers to enjoy, no matter if they amount to only a handful or half of the world. That is what is achievable.
It Polishes Away Your Voice
Trying to achieve perfection, especially the kind where you cater to everyone, only succeeds in polishing away your voice. Your author voice, the unique way you string your words together, can get drowned out when you’re trying to reach perfection. This often happens when you polish your writing to the point of fitting it to an ideal—like say the latest bestseller—rather than leaving in the rawness that sets your writing apart. You may think that you need to polish your words until they read as if they’ve come from the prose of other great writers, but other than boarding on plagiarism, shaping your words to be a carbon copy robs you of one of the greatest joys of being a writer; writing a story in your voice.
It Causes You To Over Edit
Editing is what shapes your novel. Cutting out the excess words and scenes or adding more to the plot points that need it is a fun, and at times, frustrating part of the process. If you’re going into this process with only perfection in mind, you may find yourself never moving on from the editing stage. Stuck in a perfection-chasing loop, you could be editing for years, always finding something to tweak. It feeds your impostor syndrome and gives you permission to just keep going because it’s not perfect yet. It will never be perfect, and you trying to achieve that is causing you to edit out what is most likely the best elements of your writing. Know when to edit enough—and then stop.
It Makes It Impossible To Know Your Limits
Similar to endless editing, aiming for perfection in writing makes it impossible for you to know your limits. As writers, we can only take our work so far. Beta readers help us to see glaring plot holes, editors find typos and errors we can no longer see because we’ve read the work too many times. There comes a time when you have reached the limit of what you can achieve and need the assistance of outside help to get your book to a finished, publishable stage. If you’re too busy striving for perfection, you’ll miss the signs telling you that you are at those limits. Don’t waste time trying to make it perfect before seeking the help of others. Get your story to the good enough stage and then seek help and feedback to improve it even further.
It Makes You Feel Like A Failure
The harshest truth about perfection is that it makes you feel like a failure, and what’s worse is that you’re not. You can’t be if you’re still writing daily or still sending out submissions even though your work is being rejected. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you are a failure when you’ve spent years trying to achieve something and still haven’t gotten there. But for every draft you revised because the first one didn’t meet your expectations, and every new query letter you sent out when you received a rejection (or two, or ten, or one hundred), you’re not being a failure. You are being persistent, and that is way better than being perfect.
If you haven’t realized it by now, perfection is overrated. Everyone’s idea of it is so vastly different that even if you hit it, you would never know. What you think is your best-written work, someone else thinks is a waste of ink, and vice versa. Perfection might be unattainable, but good work isn’t. Writing something that is as close to perfect as you can make it is the only time you should be striving toward perfection. Anything else isn’t possible—and that’s a good thing! Stop trying to reach the impossible and then punishing yourself for failing. As long as you’re writing regularly, improving that writing, and above all, loving what you are writing, that is all the perfection a writer needs.
— K.M. Allan