Mile 33: Perfection

Perfect is the enemy of good.

Many attribute this to Voltaire from the year 1770, and I’m going to go along with them, because it’s the message that matters, not so much the messenger.

During WWII, in reaction to the devastating Luftwaffe attacks, a British man named Robert Watson-Watt developed an early warning system that he acknowledged wasn’t perfect. He was also a proponent of what he called a “cult of the imperfect” and is credited with saying, “Give them the third best to go with; the second best comes too late, the best never comes.”

You may be asking yourself, “What is the relevance of these two quotes in our world, the world of writing my first Western novel?”

In the simplest of terms, it means this: Quit editing, proofreading, rewriting and rethinking your book, and publish the dang thing!

Please, please, please, do not let perfection be the enemy of good. It’s probably true that your book — almost any book — could always be better, even if just a little bit. One more read. Just let me set it aside for two months and look at it fresh. Maybe I don’t need this chapter, or do need to add that one. Is battle better than attack, a palomino better than a bay? Clash, conflict or combat? Did he beat him up, pound him senseless or knock him out?

I have seen too many writers hide behind these types of questions and never let them go, eventually doing so many edits and rewrites that the original book, the one with passion, spirit and excitement, is buried under an avalanche of unnecessary and never-ending changes.

Do not misunderstand me — editing, proofreading, a reread of your completed book, even two, are all good ideas and may improve the book. Just don’t become paralyzed by them, so focused on every nuance, every possible option and creating new ones where they don’t even exist that you forget what is, at least for most of us, the most important thing — publishing and sharing your book.

The process is simple (not easy, but simple). You conceive of a story. You write the story. You proof and edit the story, and then, and this is key, you publish the story. If you don’t, it’s not a book — it’s a fictional diary.

Yes, your book could almost always be a little bit better, but if I may, at some reasonable point, type ~ The End ~ and publish the damn thing. Then, enjoy a celebratory glass of bourbon and a good cigar (or your equivalent), and when you’re done, get started on your second book.

I wish you good writing, and if you have a question or something you’d like to share, send me an email at [email protected].

Thank you, enjoy and keep writing!

3 Comments on “Mile 33: Perfection

January 30, 2019 at 10:28 am

very, very, very good! thank you mr.Harris!

Andrew McBride
February 1, 2019 at 1:07 pm

Sage advice, Scott. I knew somebody who was determined to write the world’s best novel, but one proviso was it had to begin with the world’s best opening sentence. (This is all true.) About 2 years later I bumped into him and asked him how the novel was coming. He told me he hadn’t started yet because he still hadn’t worked out the opening sentence. I said “Why don’t you just write the damn thing, begin it anyhow, and along the way a great opening sentence will come to you?” In other words follow the writing adage ‘DON’T GET IT RIGHT, GET IT WRITTEN.’ As far as I know his novel is still unfinished, and it may never even have got started.

Scott Gese
March 1, 2019 at 2:08 pm

One of my favorite quotes…

“The only purpose of starting is to finish, and while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship.” — Seth Godin (Linchpin)

I would also add that they are never really perfect either. At some point you have to ship the work.


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