Dans ses écrits, un sàge Italien
Dit que le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.
–Voltaire “La Bégueule
I don’t know if I heard or read this story somewhere or if I made it up, but I have an image of a “writer” who has a story he wants to write, but won’t start until his desk is completely clean, and he has the right type of pen, and has the perfect schedule. He spends hours, then days, and, finally months and years building a workspace and never writing the novel.
That is me, to some extent. I suspect it is also you sometimes. I often feel I don’t have time to write (or create, or whatever), or I am not in the best environment. This is a problem many writers face, and it comes from fear, fear of completing something, fear of facing your demons, or fear of making something that is not perfect.
Writing my dissertation, I agonized for months at a time, not wanting to show my work to my advisors because it wasn’t perfect. It took many years before I realized that it would never be perfect, in my eyes or theirs, nor did it have to be. It simply had to be good enough.
I still find myself in this quandary of not wanting people to read my work because it is not yet perfect. I am writing a novel, but it’s not perfect, and won’t be, but I find myself stalling at about 75%. I know I need to rewrite it, and that’s fine; it’s part of the process, but at what point do I let it go into the world?
To tell the truth, I think the yearning for perfection is a way to avoid finishing the thing. For the longest time I could not understand what people meant by “fear of success.” Why wouldn’t someone want to be successful? I would ask. Of course everyone wants to succeed. It took all this time for me to realize that yes, I have that fear. Success means putting oneself out there. It means risking failure. It means the potential of humiliation. It also means having to deal with the trappings of success, of letting myself see how good I am at something, to let people admire me, to sell my work, which always seemed so dirty.
Good enough is enough. That doesn’t mean be lazy, or put out subpar work. It means figuring out when to let go of something. When I done composing this blog entry, I am going to simply hit “Publish.” Maybe I’ll find an image first, maybe not. This will be good enough. I’ve been thinking about it a few days and I am confident enough in my writing, and of this blog, to do that. If this were for something else, I might edit a few times. I am not going to finish my novel and immediately go to Amazon and upload it. I will rewrite, I will edit, I will ask a few people to read it, I will hire an editor and cover designer. Will it be perfect then? No. But it will be good enough.
Another problem a lot of us fall into is comparing ourselves to others. I remember reading Don Delillo’s Underworld and marvelling at how each sentence of this 800+ page book seemed perfect. I am not Don Delillo. I won’t ever be Don Delillo. And I don’t know this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Delillo himself were not 100% happy with that book. It is good to have role models and high standards, but when we use these as roadblocks to producing something because it doesn’t meet those imagined standards, we are robbing ourselves and others.
Another way in which the perfect becomes the enemy of the good is when we have a finished product, but we let it sit. We don’t feel like we have the perfect delivery mechanism, the perfect deal, the ideal venue for releasing our work into the world, and so we wait. We sit on it. We let it gather dust in a file cabinet or linger on a hard drive. Most artists want people to enjoy their art, and for writers, that means getting your words out into the world in a way that is good enough.
Nothing will be perfect. Settle for good enough.