Perfection is a dirty word. Look up ‘perfection’ quotes and you get everything from the funny —
to the downright hostile —
And I get it, really I do. Trying to be a perfect, flawless person sets one up for heartache. Some people spend years before realizing that it’s an impossible standard — we are human, we make mistakes.
By the same measure, some people find having too high of standards stops them from producing any creative work at all, from finishing anything. That too is bad.
But I will fight to my dying day for the idea of perfection.
Why? Because why the frick else are we here (and by we I mean creators of all types)? Yes, I’m not a perfect person, not by a long shot. And my work isn’t perfect, but it’s as close to perfect as I can make it. I have high standards and love beautiful, amazing works. Yes, these works could be The Great Gatsby and they could be Sid Meier’s Pirates! I think lots of different things are absolutely impeccable manifestations of their ideal nature — Hannibal is nothing like How to Train Your Dragon nor should it be. But to me, both take their basic ideas and push them to new heights.
If you are not trying to achieve perfection in a piece of art or a novel, what is your aim? Pretty good? Nice stack of paper you got there? ‘It’s 43% of what I wanted it to be’?
To me, perfection is just the top shelf liquor of excellence. Being able to create the best version of your best vision. When I begin a project — I see, I feel, I know the highest, most splendid version of that story exist somewhere out in the universe. And my years of honing my sense of what I like tell me when I’m getting closer to that best version. But like Ira Glass says —
So, while my taste tells me when I’m getting warmer or colder, it’s only my level of craft and dedication to keep going that decides how great the work will be. Leonardo Da Vinci said “Art is never finished, only abandoned,” and there is an element of truth to that. I do the best work I can, polish as long as I can, and at some point realize I’ve reached the limits of my powers for this book or project. It’s a little frustrating because I know the future me will be able to write it better, but if I’ve worked hard, I feel satisfied that it is as close to perfect as I can make it at this time.
And if it pushes toward perfection, even if that’s a distant star, I smile at it. I’m proud of Other Gods and A Caged Heart Still Beats and How to Come Alive: A Guidebook to Living the Life of Your Dreams. Because they are all perfect in a way, in a way humans never quite are, because we can’t rewrite our lives and relive them.
And in the end, maybe that is what I love about perfect works — they were messy, crazy things full of jagged, broken bits and a thousand mistakes. But in the end, they form a glorious, perfect whole.
And in that sense, maybe I do believe in perfection for people too.