I have perfectionist tendencies — which at times tend towards the extreme end of the continuum. I’m not a perfectionist with everything, far from it. I can live with dusty surfaces and general untidiness (to a point!). When we’re decorating, I’m definitely a ‘close enough is good enough’ worker, who manages to get plenty of paint on surrounding surfaces and myself. However, when it comes to my creative writing, it’s never good enough!
Perfection is a double-edged sword. If something is important to me, I absolutely believe in making it as good as I can, but some things just aren’t worth worrying about that much — house-decorating, cleaning and a whole pile of other things definitely fall into that category. Perfection is also an impossible standard. Whether it’s trying to look as good as a model or actress, or be as fit as a professional athlete, we’ll probably never measure up, certainly not in our own eyes.
However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work at being the best we can, at things that are important to us. The hard part is knowing when we’ve done all we can, at this moment. Those last three words are important. I look at some of my early short stories and writing – the things that no one else has ever seen – and cringe when I read them. The flip side is that I’m improving.
This thing with perfection can defeat us if we take our search too far. I know I reach a point where I have to tell myself that something is as good as I can make it. Now. It’s been critiqued, edited and polished to the best of my abilities, and within that search for perfection, there is a certain pride that I’ve done my best. We have to know when we’ve reached the limit of what we can do now, and send it out into the world.
If we don’t, then we’ll never learn to be pleased with where we are now, and look at how to move beyond it.
Equally, we know when we could make something better, but we can’t be bothered because we’re fed up with it. It’s a different feeling, and if we leave something there and don’t improve it, we’re selling ourselves short.
Some time ago I read the book 11/22/63 by Stephen King. In speaking about the book, he said he first had the idea as a very young writer, but knew he didn’t have the skills to pull it off at that point, so he practiced his craft and honed his skills until he felt he could write the book and do it justice.
Somewhere there is a point we have to find, where we can let go and be proud of what we’ve achieved, knowing there is still more of the hill to climb.