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Some writing advice…is less than perfect ‘good enough’?
Today’s entry is from Randy Ingermanson, the ‘Snowflake Guy’.
I’ve got to say that I’m of various opinions on this. Depends where my piece is going next.
If it’s a contest, where THIS IS IT, I tend to lean toward perfection. If it’s going to a beta reader or an editor, I want it to be good, of course, but I think it’s important to let go of perfection in favor of getting some other eyes on it and opening up.
Organization: Is “Done” Better Than “Perfect”?
by Randy Ingermanson
I realized recently that I’m a perfectionist.
That has an upside and a downside.
The upside is that when I finally finish something, it’s the best I can do. It’s something I can be proud of.
The downside is that it often takes me a very long time to finish things. And sometimes I don’t get them done at all. And that means there are a lot of unfinished things on my plate. Which is not something to be proud of.
So I’ve been asking myself lately whether it’s better to be “done” or “perfect.”
And I can’t see that either one is always the best answer.
The Argument to Just Get it Done
Some things simply don’t need to be perfect. (That’s very hard for me to say, but I have to admit it’s true.)
I own a couple of acres of land, in a state where there’s lots of rain and quite a bit of sunshine. Which means that weeds grow like crazy here. Short of a nuclear blast, I don’t think it’s actually possible to get the entire lot free of weeds at any given time.
But even if it was possible, they’d be back in a week. So it makes sense to just blaze through and knock out all the big weeds and leave the little guys alone. Painful as it is to let the little weeds live, there are just too many of them.
Now that summer is approaching, I’m facing that reality again. So there’s a case for getting the job mostly done, rather than perfectly done.
I had a manager once who used to say, “Make it good enough for now.” I never liked that idea, but often it was the only way to work.
When you have a hard deadline that absolutely must be met, usually the best you can do is “good enough for now.”
The Argument to Get it Perfect
But there are times when you really need perfection.
For example, when lives are at risk. Every airplane crash is a reminder that somebody, somewhere wasn’t perfect.
As another example, sometimes there are outsized rewards for being the best. If you’re an Olympic athlete in an event that gets a lot of media attention, there can be a huge financial difference between a gold medal and a silver. Even if the performance difference is only a hundredth of a second.
When you’re in a high-risk situation or a high-reward situation, “good enough for now” really isn’t good enough.
What About That Book You’re Writing?
Let’s bring this home for writers. What about that book you’re writing? Is it better to get it done, or get it perfect?
I’d say that depends.
It depends on what your goals are for the book. It depends on your strategic vision for your writing career.
It may very well make sense for you to write books quickly, doing the best you can in a set amount of time, producing good quality books on a regular schedule. That works for many writers. We might call this the James Patterson model. Mr. Patterson does very well by writing about a dozen books per year.
But it may also make sense for you to write the best book you possibly can, no matter how long it takes. You might take years between books, while your fans loyally wait, knowing that you’re going to give them an amazing experience every time. That also works well for some writers. We might call this the J.K. Rowling model. The last three Harry Potter books were spaced two to three years apart. And Ms. Rowling has done very well by that model.
You Get To Decide
You are in charge of your own life, so you get to decide how you’ll run your writing career.
Remember, it’s not all or nothing. You don’t have a binary choice between “fast and good enough” or “slow and perfect.” There’s a spectrum of options, and you get to choose where you’ll fit on that spectrum.
Here are a few questions to guide you:
- Does your personality lean more towards “get it done” or “get it perfect”?
- Does your target audience value high speed in writing or high quality?
- Are there outsized rewards for being the fastest writer in your category?
- Are there outsized rewards for being the best writer in your category?
- Where do the writers you admire most land on the spectrum of “fast” versus “amazing”?
Every project is different. You don’t have to put all your books at the same point on the spectrum. You can bend some of them toward the “fast” end and some toward the “amazing” end.
I make only one recommendation here: make the decision on where you want your book to be on the spectrum at the beginning of the project.
And then live by that decision.
This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.