I hear it all the time. “I can’t finish my story because I want it to be perfect and it isn’t.”
Guess what? No matter how long you futz over your words, they will never be perfect and trust me, you don’t want them to be. So many writers waste their time chasing down perfection like it’s a magical finish line that, once crossed, will win them this game called life. Little do they know that perfection is more like a jackalope: it doesn’t exist.
There are artists who weave imperfections into their art for various reasons. There is beautiful pottery, once broken, that is repaired with lines of gold, thereby celebrating the cracks rather than being ashamed of them. There are rugs woven with imperfections so as not to anger the gods. There are imperfections that become pathways for the spirit to travel when the artist dies.
As writers, we need to embrace imperfection. We need to break free from the idea that mistakes are bad. Mistakes are the places where you learn, where you grow. Mistakes can be more than just something you need to correct; they can be adventures.
Embracing imperfection isn’t about writing a story without any regard for grammar rules or spelling, storytelling, plot, or characterization. Rather, it’s writing a story without any regard for boundaries, limits, outdated ideals, or unattainable goals.
Diamonds are revered for their polished beauty, one might argue. It doesn’t look nearly so pretty when it comes up out of the dark, scarred earth. But I would argue that they all look the same. Sure there are different cuts, but if I said, “Diamond,” most people would come up with a pretty similar picture in their heads.
What if I said, “Wilderness,” instead? What comes to your mind?
Some people argue that striving for perfection makes authors push themselves to grow and hone their craft. I would argue that striving for beauty even in imperfection can create better things that perfect prose. It can create new genres, new takes on old stories, it can birth innovation and excitement.
A writer striving for perfection wears blinders because, just like diamonds or wilderness, every one of us has a different idea of what perfection looks like. “If I can just perfect my sentence structure,” or “If I can just build the suspense just so,” and off we go tweaking, prodding, erasing and starting over, all to fix something that probably doesn’t need fixed in the first place. That’s tunnel vision, the result of those blinders.
People who embrace imperfection aren’t fixated on honing their craft. They are focused on creating things that delight them. They have highs and lows just like every other writer, but they honor the lows instead of running from them, because even then, in those imperfect moments, there’s something to be learned, felt, or experienced.
Perfection is the creativity killer. It looks like your next door neighbor. It dresses in nice clothes. It convinces you that all will be well if you just mess with that paragraph one more time because the eightieth time’s the charm. In the meantime, those writers who go balls to the wall whether they have everything spelled just so, are rushing past in a gleeful spray of words.
Next time you have writer’s block, ask yourself what you are obsessing over. Odds are it will have something to do with an unachievable goal inspired by the illusion of perfection. Sometimes giving yourself permission to make mistakes, to be imperfect, can set your creative self free.
Try it. Go forth and make mistakes and see what wild and wonderful things you make.
Jen Ponce is a writer of kickass women and oogy monsters. She’s currently working on the fourth book in her dark urban fantasy series, several short stories for upcoming anthologies, and an epic fantasy that keeps growing and growing despite her best efforts to tame its characters. (They have a lot to say.) You can visit her at: www.JenniferPonce.com and find out more about her, her books, and everything.