The other day I read a comment (about a knitting pattern, but it still applies) where someone said “If I’m paying $X, I expect it to be perfect.”
It wasn’t even an exorbitant amount of money. Just a very normal price for a knitting pattern. Probably too low, even, but we don’t need to get sidetracked into discussions of fair pay for designers. The part that’s stuck with me is this idea of “If I’m paying for it, then it should be perfect.”
Putting your writing (of any kind) out there for other people to read is a scary thing, because it means random strangers can pick it apart. Insult it. Post that they can’t believe they paid $X for this. Sharing your writing means opening yourself up to critique, criticism, and insults of something you’ve worked hard on, and done all you could to “fix,” but …
Especially when your document goes from person to person and each is focused on perfecting one aspect of it. Your editor fixes your commas, maybe, but then once it goes into layout, you end up with a weird line division of a multi-syllable word. It’s not because layout wanted to introduce an error. Layout did exactly what layout is supposed to do. And hopefully you catch it in the proofs stage, but in the proofs stage you’re looking for errors and trying to build your index, working under a hard deadline.
I think it’s time for Gaiman’s First Law again:
“Picking up your first copy of a book you wrote, if there’s one typo, it will be on the page that your new book falls open to the first time you pick it up.”Neil Gaiman
We’re human. All of us, no matter what our title or CV or reputation. We’re all trying our best to contribute what the process – and it’s a long, long process – needs from us so we can end up putting something in your hands. We read our own words so many times, trying to approach them from so many mindsets, that a mistake isn’t a sign of neglect. Everyone involved is doing their best and laboring over the document and reading so closely that yes, sometimes we miss something that a casual reader will think is glaringly obvious.
There will always be errors, and there will always be people pointing out errors. I guess my fear is that someone will read “If I’m paying $X, I expect it to be perfect” and then … never try. Never write something in the first place. If a complete stranger has such high expectations, never having met you, imagine how high your own must be since you’re fully aware of your own capabilities.
Have you ever heard this one?
A good dissertation is a done dissertation. A great dissertation is a published dissertation. A perfect dissertation is neither.old academic adage now apparently posted everywhere without an accompanying citation
Stop expecting perfection. Of other people. Of yourself. If perfection were a requirement, nothing would ever be published. We’d all be stuck in the pit of despair and red ink. Forever.
If your idea is going to get out there, you need to make peace with the fact that it won’t be perfect. (Whether you really want to make peace with the fact that strangers will communicate with you solely to point out errors is your own decision.)
There are some things you have no control over. There are some things you just have to let go. One of the first is others’ idea of perfection. And one of the second is your own.
What do you think? Can writing ever actually be “perfect”? (And do people send the same number of comments about something if it is?)