I’m not a perfectionist. Sure, I have my standards. I like to make sure things are as good as I can possibly make them. But then I’m able to let go. I don’t mind if things aren’t completely perfet. Oops, I mean perfect.
I used to be a lot worse. I used to set much higher standards for myself. For my first attempt at writing a novel, I reckon I must have gone through at least ten redrafts. And even then I was never happy with it. I can assure you that this novel will never ever see the light of day.
For each subsequent piece of writing, I think I’ve spent a little less time. Maybe the next one had five or six redrafts, and the one after that had about three. And I suspect they’re none the worse for that. Sure, there’s value in going back time after time, trying to make things better and then better again. But after a while it definitely seems like diminishing returns. In the end, each redraft becomes more about petty little word changes or rearranging commas. It just doesn’t make that much difference to the quality of the story as a whole.
That’s when I know there’s no more point trying to fix it up myself, and it’s time to hand over to an editor. I need another pair of eyes, and hopefully someone who can focus in on the important stuff that will really make a difference, rather than the fiddly “trying to make it perfect” stuff I tend to get fixated on.
The editing is kind of like the one time when I’m actually able to let go. I can feel like it’s ok for my story not to be perfect and I can let someone else help out with the troubleshooting. Of course, once I get the story back from the editor, all my perfectionist impulses kick in again. I obsess about every tiny edit, sometimes taking ages to get the wording I want to be just right. Working through edits can actually take longer than previous redrafting iterations.
But ultimately, I’m able to let go. I’m able to say, “This book is good enough.” It might not be perfect, but it’s in a state which I’m happy for the world to see. Hopefully, it’s at least free from typos or substantive grammatical errors, even if it is probably never going to be quite as good as the original story idea I first had in my mind.
But I can let it go. I can say enough is enough and hit publish. And in order to do that, I have to be far less a perfectionist than I once was. Now all I have to do is make sure I never read through the final published book again.
Riptides in Reality
Posted by Jonathan Gould and tagged as