One of the biggest things I’ve learned over the last couple of months with my writing, my photography and pretty much every other creative outlet I’ve been focusing on lately, is that my worst habit is trying to be perfect from the beginning. There’s no such thing, and I really should f***ing stop trying before I drive myself crazy once again trying to achieve it.
When I was first starting out, it took me a while to realize there’s a difference between professionalism and perfection. Professionalism means many things to me: it can take the social meaning, such as having the patience and the ability to listen to others of different levels and work well with them. Maybe not in sync, but at least understand their levels as much as they (hopefully) understand yours. It can also mean physical (so to speak), such as submitting a clean manuscript and prose that sounds like I devoted a considerable amount of time working on it.
The problem is that when I’m not paying attention, my brain starts thinking that such a clean manuscript and tidied-up prose means it’s perfect prose and product. Which is why we writers cringe when we see our completed and published books out in the wild and suddenly that absolutely terrible typo or horrible use of grammar shows up that absolutely no one, not even the editor, caught. We see an imperfection and Everything Is Ruined Forever.
Lately I’ve been thinking of the title of Adorable’s classic shoegaze record, Against Perfection, and I think it fits perfectly with my recent mindset regarding all this. I’m finding that the only way I can combat this urge to make every single creation of mine an absolutely flawless masterpiece is to actively remind myself: go against perfection. Sure, be as professional as you possibly can, but stop it with the f***ing perfectionism already! Life is messy. Life isn’t precise. It’s full of paradoxes, full of mistakes and misdirections. I’m not saying to submit a terrible manuscript: just stop trying to make every single moment in the story perfect.
I can think of dozens of songs by The Beatles that contain all kinds of mistakes, egregious or otherwise (my favorite being in “Hey Jude”, when Paul swears just before the ‘na-na-na’ coda) and people still think they’re one of the most important rock bands in history. They made their songs as professional-sounding as possible, but the imperfections became part of their charm.
So I need to remember every now and again: it’s okay to have a bit of sloppiness, especially during the rough drafts. Tidy them up in revision. Make it sound great! But there’s no reason for me to make every single sentence spotless and clean. [Hell — this blog post isn’t exactly how I wanted it to sound, but I’m not going to delete it. It gets my point across regardless.]
It’s okay to go against perfection.