A lot of people describe themselves as “perfectionists”. I’m not one of them. I don’t pursue perfection, and—gasp!—I’m happy with less than perfection. More often than not, I’m happy with “good enough”.
Does this mean I have low standards? That I don’t expect quality? No, not at all.
To me, perfection means that one never completes a task, whether it’s baking a cake, vacuuming the floor, or painting a room. There’s always something that can be tweaked or improved. You have to decide whether that imperfection merits more of your time and energy.
The icing isn’t as smooth as it should be.
There’s a speck of dust near the baseboards.
The paint bled around the window trim.
Does it really matter that the icing isn’t perfectly smooth? It still tastes good.
Does it matter that there’s a speck of dust near the baseboard? Only if you plan to lick the baseboard.
Does it matter if the paint bled around the window trim? Depends on how much it bled, and who’s going to notice.
I don’t think it’s possible to be an author and be a perfectionist. I truly believe they’re mutually exclusive. You can be an author or you can be a perfectionist. But you can’t be both at the same time.
You can rewrite a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, over and over. You can tweak and rework until your eyes are blurry and your fingers are numb. And it’s still not perfect. It can still be better.
As an author, I have to resist the urge to make little changes here and there. I have to just let it be.
To clarify, I’m not talking about grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors. Those obviously need to be fixed. In fact, it kind of drives me nuts when I see errors in a book. To me, that’s just sloppy.
I’m talking about something else entirely—the essence of a book. The way the words and sentences come together to tell a story.
When it comes right down to it, writing is like art. It’s subjective. What one person likes, another may hate. And therein lies the challenge of achieving perfection.