Case against Perfection

What? A case against perfection?

I am not encouraging you to be sloppy.

I am urging you to keep writing once you've begun and don't stop until you've hit the finish line for that draft.

And I'm urging you to edit your work following the steps I give you in a moment.

What I am saying here is that too many writers (including me) begin a project, judge it as pretty bad, and quit. They quit because their writing doesn't look "perfect."

And too many writers (including me) begin to edit their work and then either: (1) decide the project is trash and dump it into a file, or (2) decide the project needs a lot of rewriting and then spend weeks, months, even years on it!

No! Finish what you started—fast! Complete it, edit it, rewrite it, polish it—, and then get it out the door!

I have learned that this is a fundamental key to success: Don't wait for perfection.

John Ruskin said, "No good work whatever can be perfect, and the demand for perfection is always a sign of a misunderstanding of the ends of art."

Perfection is your enemy. Do the best you can and move on to

A Case against Perfection the next project. Striving for perfection can stop you from achieving any results. Go for results.

The more you do, the better you get. Quantity leads to quality. Ray Bradbury wrote 2,000 stories in order to get 200 that were classics. Some authors write six books in order to have two that are worth publishing. Don't judge your work as you write it, just write it! Crank out the stuff!

Again, I am not urging you to crank out crap. I want you to write spellbinding, unforgettable, Hypnotic Writing.

But too many writers spend too much time fiddling with their work. In the next section I give you some eye-opening ways to edit your work. Follow my suggestions, rewrite your work, and then let it go. Don't dwell on it!

Look! Your writing can't be perfect. Not ever!

Here's why: If you're writing something for an editor, that editor is going to change your work. He or she will alter words, sentences, and passages; delete or add sections; change your title and more. You can spend all year beating your head against your computer screen, but no matter how much work you put into perfecting your writing, your editor is gonna change it. Trust me. As H.G. Wells said, "There's no passion equal to the passion to alter someone's draft."

The strange thing is, your readers will never know what your editor changed! I remember sending a review to a major magazine. I polished that thing till its perfection blinded me. But when the review came out, the last two paragraphs—two entire paragraphs— had been sliced off! I thought the review was a mess without those last lines but no one ever noticed the change—except me. The readers simply accepted the published review as is.

If you're writing something for the public, say a sales letter or a newsletter, you are going to have some people say your writing isn't clear. When I wrote a sales letter on myself as a ghostwriter, some people wrote back with suggestions on how I could perfect it. One person went through my letter and highlighted—in bright yel-low—every time I used the words I or my. He suggested "I" delete those words! And when I wrote a newsletter for a client of mine, some readers said it was too folksy and some said it wasn't folksy enough.

Remember my sales letter on Thoughtline? I rewrote that thing a hundred times—maybe more—yet it still isn't considered perfect. Just the other day I received an anonymous note from someone in response to that sales letter. She (or he) said, "I think this is a horrible package you are offering, as it will contribute to the already illiterate, lazy-minded folks in this country. Please put your intelligence and energy into a better serving area!"

What's "perfect writing" then?

I have no idea. What's perfect to me may seem like a baby's first draft to my agent. My job as a writer is to do the best I can. That means writing with skill and precision, and then editing ruthlessly. It also means letting go of the writing so it can go out into the world and get whatever results it's going to get.

You'll learn more from the feedback you get than from the rewriting you do. Input will give you concrete direction; rewriting will give you hand cramps.

Again, I am not saying mediocre writing is okay (though it often gets published).

My message is this: Don't let striving for perfection stand in the way of getting results.

Finish the drafts you start. Edit the best you can. Then let your work go.

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