Striving for Perfection

Striving for absolute shiny perfection is the worst thing for me.

No, really. My idea of perfection is just a little too perfect. I could go mad, trying to write the Platonic ideal story; I know I could. I could work and work and work on the same story until the stars grow cold, and never feel as if I was finished with it.

So I don’t try to make any single story perfect. I know it’s never going to happen. My brain can always think of something more that’s required.

What I do instead is work my way towards perfection bit by bit, story by story, going around and around the mountain by a spiral path, every once in a while doing a little freeclimbing. In the back of my mind as I sit with pen in hand or fingers on keyboard is “this time, there will be no dialogue without purpose!” or, “this time, I will not go overboard when describing clothes in a static manner!” or, “this time, I will eliminate sixty percent of character navel-gazing!” I go for improvement. Constant improvement.

I also think that I improve in steps; I reach a plateau, struggle against it, and then surmount that level. A story I wrote three years ago might have been as “perfect” as I could manage, but since that time, my skills have improved. I’m aiming for a new level with today’s writing. If this continues, I will never write a perfect story.

Occasionally, I think, “My God, this story is amazing! I am so brilliant!” but I instantly slap myself down. Because it isn’t amazing. Well, it might be, but if I think that while I’m in the midst of it, I’ll blow it, being swept up in my own perceived brilliance and forgetting that other people are going to read this story, too. Afterward is when I can believe it might be amazing, when I can look over it and think, “That’s not bad at all.” And even then, it won’t be amazing to everyone.

There is no perfection. Why would I bother to write, then? We’d all be busy canoodling in a Platonic glow.

It’s a battle, also, between making deadlines and making Art. I want to write something that’s the absolute best it can be and polish until it’s so beautiful I can hardly look at it, and only then send it out into the world. I want to not care about anything but the work and making it shine and sing and all that other metaphorical crap.

And then I think, who do you think you are, Michaelangelo? and what’s wrong with fun, simple stories? and geez, overthinking, much?. Striving for perfection is good. Doing it to the point of madness means I’d never finish anything, never send anything out, never hear other opinions on my work.

It’s best to just get to work on the next project. Because, in the end, forward and upward won’t happen unless the words go on the paper.

Related Posts: How To Write a Novel (in 72 Easy Steps!) and Zero Drafting.

Tune in tomorrow for guest Ann Aguirre, who will be posting on worldbuilding.

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
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6 Responses to Striving for Perfection

  1. Louisa Edwards says:

    The perfect is the enemy of the good. If you can't let go of the idea of perfection, you'll never finish anything! This is why I love deadlines–they force you to stop tinkering and move on.

  2. Victoria Janssen says:

    "The perfect is the enemy of the good." I like that.

  3. Jeannie Lin says:

    I think you've set a great goal though. With each story, you get a little better. It's great to strive for perfection.

    As to art – I'm of the camp that the beauty is in the imperfections. :) I like it when a writer that is obviously a good writer does something imperfect on purpose. Kind of like in architecture when they would build in imperfections on purpose. :)

  4. jennareynolds says:

    I'm definitely in the striving for perfection but knowing I'll never reach it camp. I try to learn something new with everything I write but I also know I'll never completely create what I envision so perfectly in my mind.

    It's that whole Browning's a person's reach should exceed their grasp or what's a heaven for kinda thing. :)

  5. Victoria Janssen says:


  6. Victoria Janssen says:

    Kind of like in architecture when they would build in imperfections on purpose.

    Or the "mistake" block in a quilt.

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