Thursday, October 2, 2014

When to Push the Button

Zestful Blog Post #73

How do you know when a book is done? When is it ready to wing its electronic way to agents and editors? When do you hit 'PUBLISH'?

Recently I was listening to an artist discuss her current project, which consists of many moving parts and interfaces. Very complex. I perceived that over time, she'd been agonizing over increasingly fine details, and was starting to have difficulty making aesthetic decisions. She didn't know how long it would take to make it good enough for the marketplace.

Right then it dawned on me. "You're there," I said.

And I saw the exact parallel with writing projects—novels, nonfiction, stories, essays. Anything you create, really. When your project is rough, it's easy to see ways to make it better, and you busy yourself in the execution. Then the finishing process starts to get ever more delicate; you use a finer and finer grade of grit to shape your product. When you're not sure whether that speck is a bump or a hollow, stop. Ship it.

But it's not perfect! I know it! I can feel it!

Good. Nothing's perfect. Moreover, nothing should be perfect. Have you heard about

the rug makers of Persia who deliberately weave in an error out of fear of creating a mistake-free product? The same is attributed to Amish quilt makers, Navajo blanket weavers, Turkish shipbuilders, etc. The idea is that only the deity can be perfect. Presumably, then, to create something perfect would be an affront to that deity.

What a great, freeing idea for all artists! Leave perfection to the godhead! Do your best, ship it, declare victory, and move on.

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[Photo of cool rug by ES]


  1. I'd bet that's a reason a lot of people never finish a novel -- the fear of perfection.

    I had no idea about imperfection woven into rugs. As I was reading this, I was thinking, that would make a great clue in mystery novel. Not sure how I'll ever use it, but I just banked it away. Thanks!

    1. You're right, JC. And yeah, a 'weave clue' could be effective!

  2. I'm not there yet with my work in progress, but have been before, and will again visit "perfection purgatory" in a few months. You've given me--and all of us--a huge gift. Many thanks.

  3. Another case of getting caught up in wanting your writing to be perfect for me. I'm self publishing my first book, a poetry chapbook this winter (December/January). I was able to send an uncorrected ARC pdf to interested reviewers recently and now I keep going over it, on how I can make it perfect. And this is before I'd received any feedback. Will have to keep this blog post in mind when I do my final edits. Thanks.


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