Having Standards vs. Being a Royal Pain

One of my significant life lessons going on right now has to do with how to figuring out how to insist on high quality product without being the person people see emails from and say "Ugh, I can't deal with that right now." In terms of things I care about, "good enough" has never been an option for me. I'm not saying this to toot my own horn--trust me, it's more often a curse than a blessing.

The trouble with never being able to reach that point of "good enough," is that I constantly doubt. Every time I submit something, whether it's a drawing for a project, or an editing pass of a manuscript, or even put a meal on the table, I worry that I have not outdone myself enough for the creation to pass muster. After all, I could have done another layer of hard pencil tone over the grain of the drawing to make it just that much more satiny. I could have combed again for sentences that were less than artfully constructed. The enchiladas might have needed another dash of cumin or perhaps another few tablespoons of poblano.

The other trouble is that we live in a culture of "bare minimum for the sake of speed." You see it in businesses everywhere. The guy who works hard to get things absolutely right, but works slowly, is overlooked in favor of the guy who can do just enough to avoid having oversights link back to him, and his ability to both avoid blame and look productive get him ahead.

Luckily, it seems so far, that writing for a small press is a good fit for a chronic perfectionist like me. There's none of the sense of being swept along on the conveyor belt of the publishing machine when your work isn't wedged into a lineup of 25 books that need to release in the same quarter. Perhaps I will discover a different outlook by the time my novel releases, but for now, I have had no sense of being rushed by anyone but me. (And incidentally, I've been pretty pleased with my ability to forecast my self-imposed deadlines. There's something I don't have to harp on myself about!) After hearing horror stories from folks who have worked with big houses, how they have had to settle for books they felt needed more finessing, or covers that weren't quite on the mark, I am glad I am making my first foray into publishing with small presses.

What I'm also realizing, though, is that getting a book out on the market is much like what my former pastor used to say about getting a new car. He used to say, "Every new car needs one good dent." In the same way, I think every author needs to figure out how to take a deep breath and realize books launch with mistakes. It's inevitable, no matter how many excellent people go over my work, it will get printed with something missing, extra, or askew. And the sooner I can take a deep breath and realize my credibility as an artist will not crumble when the fans find those little errors, the closer to sane I will be.

"Sane" being relative, of course. After all, I am a writer.

Comments

  1. Dare I say it? It's killing me. The irony! For a post about perfectionism you have an error in the first sentence. Which I think proves your own point entirely. So maybe you were just really extra smart. :)

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  2. Lol...I wish that were premeditated. What a self contradictory doofus I am. But I will leave it. It can be the dent in this new car.

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  3. The above comment needs a "like" button :).

    Funny, my husband is a car guy who wigs out over the tiniest pings in our vehicles. And while I tend to be a huge perfectionist, I love having that "one dent" in the car. It lets me relax. If my car is not perfect, I don't have to be on edge every time I drive the darn thing.

    Anyway, one thing a fellow writer said to me once was that no matter how much you edit, you can always find things to change, and if you don't just pick a place to stop, you will edit until you have a totally different story.

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  4. Yeah, there is a point at which you have to just declare it finished and move on to something else. I get to that point in my art, and I can always tell, because it starts looking overworked. I haven't yet hit that point in my writing, though, because I know so much less about it. I want my writing to be as close to perfection as I can get it, though, so I think I'll eventually pursue traditional publishing. I need the meatgrinder of editors.

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  5. Hi, Becky! Sorry to go All Psychological on you...but I have to chime in since Personality Psych is one of my favorite topics, and because I'm with you on all counts. The trait is called Conscientiousness,and the more you have of it, the more concerned you are about being blamed for mistakes. Accordingly, we (I'm I card-carrying member, too!)take great care with our work, take more time to perfect it, and tend to be more thorough, organized, and detail-oriented. At root, these behaviors come from a fundamental need to avoid risk and blame. The trait is correlated with better performance on the job (duh!) and, interestingly, a "need for achievement." (Thus, quite a few artists) We tend to be specialists...really digging in deep and driven to master any subject that captures our passions.

    The dark side? As you said, doubt. More prone towards discouragement and depression. The "Never Good Enough" syndrome. Self-imposed stress that can be severe enough to cause health and relationship problems. Every personality trait is a two-sided coin.

    It's not that those high in Conscientiousness never make mistakes...it's that it bothers them more when they do, and they have a much harder time reaching that point of acceptance that you describe. They take their own shortcomings (and often those of others)extremely seriously.

    And, yes...agree 100% that a small press seems like a better environment for that type of personality to thrive in.

    Fun topic! Thanks for bringing it up...

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