Accepting My Writing Isn’t “Perfect” by PortiaLily Taylor

“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.”  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

Photo by Lisa Fotios on

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