I suppose I was “spoiled” for perfection because I was a professional writer for my entire adult life. I didn’t have the option of perfection. I had a job to do, a book to produce, and a deadline to meet. I learned to write well, to self edit (because rarely did I have an editor), to get everything ready to go without doing oodles of overtime. This was important because I never was paid for overtime. Overtime meant I was using my personal time for work.
When you’re churning out 500 to 1000 pages every few months, you do your best and hope you’ll have time to go back for a good edit and some rewriting before it goes to press. If I worked very fast, I could create the extra time I needed and after a good edit and rewrite, it was always better. I rewrite posts too. They are always better. If I rewrite the same piece a third time, it’s even better.
No piece of writing is ever perfect. It can always be improved, but it will never be perfect. I’m not even sure if there is a perfect in the writing world — or for that matter, in any kind of art.
So, I’m good with good. Sometimes, I write a post good enough to feel I deserve a pat on the back, even if I’m doing the patting. Occasionally, I write something of which I’m proud. If no one reads it, I’m not shy. I’ll keep posting the piece until someone notices it.
I’m the same way with cooking, drawing, and photography. If I feel I’m making progress, I’m fine. This doesn’t mean I’m satisfied with the product. Making progress is good, but I usually feel there’s room for improvement because in the arts, there is always room for improvement.
I have had to accept the reality that many things I do — writing, drawing, cooking, photography — might fail. Sometimes, the cake falls, the photograph is fuzzy, and the piece you’re writing doesn’t quite come together. It can be a little off or really bad. Part of learning to do things well is knowing when you didn’t do well.
In art, it sometimes means tossing that piece. For photography it has meant not processing pictures that aren’t going to look the way I want them to look. This has been surprisingly hard for me. Sometimes, a bad photograph contains an image I love but which I can’t fix. As for cooking? It’s figuring out what went wrong and what I need to do to get it right. Writing? When editing and rewriting doesn’t bring a post up to snuff, the trash bin awaits.
Self-criticism isn’t bad unless you don’t know “good” when you see it or you begin to obsess over everything. Age has made me more easy-going about everything I do. Maybe the key is not being on a schedule and knowing I have plenty of time to get it right.
Or maybe it’s not being able remember anything for more than a minute.