“The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Voltaire
I haven’t blogged in a while. I blame my procrastination on the sentiment of the saying attributed to Voltaire, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”
While working on completion of my novel, Sarah Finn, I began sharing my efforts with a new online, writers’ critique group. I was used to positive comments from writer friends in my community, so when the critique group gave me less than stellar comments, my ego was deflated. Although I knew these suggestions were made in a supportive and positive fashion, they were still hard to take.
I questioned my writing skills to the point I was stymied as to how to proceed. After weeks of inertia, I knew Winston Churchill’s variation on Voltaire’s words was true. The perfect is the enemy of progress. In trying to make things “perfect,” I wasn’t progressing at all.
Instead of realizing perfection was impossible, I simply switched to working on another of my manuscripts–the middle grade, pirate fantasy Captain Con & the Red Jacket. I worked and worked on Captain Con in an effort to make that manuscript “perfect.” Finally, I gathered confidence to read a few pages to my critique group. Again, there were lots of suggestions for change from cutting back on my descriptive narratives to adding talking animals as characters. I heard the adage “Show, not tell” more times than I’d like to remember.
Again, I stopped writing. It was all too much. I realized I could never revise my work into the perfect text, the perfect narration, the perfect story. And that goal of “perfection” was an impossible obstacle to my writing. I had fallen into the trap described by the incredible author Margaret Atwood who said, “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”
I took another look at my writing and edited without worrying about its being “perfect.” Then I knew Bryan Hutchinson, the author of Writers’ Doubt, was right when he wrote, “Accept the fact that you’re not perfect, and realize then how much easier it is to be a writer.”
Going back to the suggestions of my fellow critique group members, I took the advice of a slogan in recovery programs. Take what you want and leave the rest. I “took” the advice that supported my theme and style and “left the rest.” There was still much to do, but instead of striving to be perfect, I focused on making my Captain Con manuscript as “good” as possible.
I found peace in knowing “good” was good enough for me especially after reading the online article by James Cary, “How Perfect is the Enemy of Good.” https://jamescary.substack.com/p/how-perfect-is-the-enemy-of-good He pointed out that in Genesis, God declared his work “good” and “very good.” He didn’t say everything he created was “perfect.”
The manuscript for Captain Con & the Red Jacket is now finished. It’s not perfect, but I believe it’s good–maybe even very good. And that’s enough.
by PortiaLily Taylor
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