Don’t Let Perfection Ruin Good Enough

8-29 Vinalhaven, Maine 1936 blacksmith

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
Teddy Roosevelt
“Citizenship in a Republic,”Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

The best part about being a writer is knowing you don’t have to be perfect because no matter what you produce some of your readers will think it is crap. It won’t matter if you win a Pulitzer or Nobel Prize either, some critic will tell you it is the worst thing they have ever read.

I don’t know any of this from experience nor can I say I have written a best seller about…well anything.

But I have been published in a variety of places and I have received the compliments and criticism that come from publishing and not just from family members either.

A Writer’s Worst Enemy

I also know from experience that a writer’s worst enemy is often the person whose face they see staring back in the bathroom mirror. It is not unusual or uncommon for us to question the value of our work or to be concerned about whether it is good enough to publish.

It is a big part of why some writers fall into the trap of trying to achieve perfection when they should be willing to work with “good enough.”

Don’t mistake that last line to mean we should accept or be happy with inferior work because it doesn’t mean that at all. What it means is you do your best to produce high quality work but understand the chase for perfection is never ending. You can always find a better way to say, scream, write or shout it.

There is always going to be a piece of work that you look at with envy and admiration because you wish you could produce something similar.

It is why you have to find the place where you can accept “Good Enough” because if you don’t you won’t ever publish and that a ¬†problem.

Publish or Perish

Publish or perish isn’t something that is limited to the academic world. Writers start out their lives by belonging to a class called “Starving Artists” and those that don’t publish are guaranteed to stay there.

Perfection is nothing but a big white whale and your harpoon just can’t penetrate the layers of blubber between you and it. You already know that to be a writer means you have to become a good friend of rejection. It is ok, there is nothing wrong with that.

Remember we already talked about how some people will hate your work and some people like your parents will praise you for writing about how Jack and Jill managed to fetch a pail of water.

Stop listening to the voices that tell you to not publish and just point, click and send your work to someone who can pay you for it. If you are going to strike you might as well go down swinging because an out is an out.

The big difference between you and the person who doesn’t swing is simple– you can close your eyes knowing you tried and they have to live with the shame that comes from being unable to take a chance.

Don’t let perfection ruin good enough. Just write.

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  1. Kumar January 22, 2013 at 8:56 am

    Josh, my findings have been that fear of rejection, because of not writing a masterpiece every time is the biggest reason for some of the blogs getting disappeared or not getting updated.


  2. Adam January 21, 2013 at 7:14 am

    Josh, one of my favorite quotes of all time!

    Blogging has helped me get over perfectionism — particularly having a publication schedule. I used to “write for my closet,” which is where a lot of writing ended up (and still is), because I would never show it to anyone. Sometimes you just have to put it out there and take what comes.

    • Josh January 21, 2013 at 4:08 pm

      Hi Adam,

      Teddy knew how to make his point in a memorable fashion. Writing for the closet works when you have a “private journal” and don’t care to try to make a point in public or influence people.

      I understand the concern because I feel it too, it never goes away. But sometimes you need to show your faith in yourself and publish because it is how we improve.

  3. Yvonne Salvatierra January 20, 2013 at 11:47 am

    I criticize myself to death, over and over, personally, and when I’m writing. My doubts take hold of me” “Is this the best ending?” “What if I say it this way instead of that way?”, “Who is going to read my stories?” -and on and on and on. It never stops. But I have found that ignoring that inner critic, is better than trying to appease her. A writer writes. Period. And so I write on…

    • Josh January 21, 2013 at 12:08 am

      Hi Yvonne,

      That inner critic can be brutal but he/she can also cause paralysis and that is a bigger problem than writing something that falls short of the mark.

      The way to become a better writer is to practice writing and we have to ignore the inner critic to do that.

  4. Tim Bonner January 19, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    Hey Josh

    I’m often too self-critical about what I write and it makes me think twice about publishing posts sometimes or even the subject matter I write about.

    You’re right though. There’s really no point in thinking like that otherwise I’m never going to get anything done.

    • Josh January 21, 2013 at 12:02 am

      Hi Tim,

      It is very common to wonder about that, I know I do. Sometimes I read my work and cringe because I think it is awful.

      And then sometimes someone will leave a comment telling me the post I thought was awful is pretty good.

      I think it really shows that different people respond differently to things and that sometimes we are harder on ourselves than we should be.

  5. Kimberly January 19, 2013 at 10:37 pm

    Hey Josh, found your blog on the Write on Edge site and so glad I did–this advice is exactly what I needed to hear today. I have trouble putting myself out there and submitting work to publishers because of the fear of rejection. I need to remember that it’s better to close my eyes and know I tried. Thanks!

    • Josh January 20, 2013 at 11:58 pm

      Hi Kimberly,

      It is nice to meet you and I hope this helped. Since we can’t be all things to all people it makes sense to be willing to try things out and take a shot. Some might not like us, but some will.

      It is hard to predict what will go over. Sometimes the writing we dislike the most is the one that resonates with others.

  6. Mary Stephenson January 19, 2013 at 5:13 pm

    Hi Josh

    Like your reference to parents liking anything you write (Jack and Jill).
    Yeah, once we can get over the hurdle of self-pride the rest is just do it. Who cares if a few others are critical. Besides if they comment on your blog about how they hate what you write, you can just delete them.

    There will always be critics on whatever you do. It doesn’t matter if it is writing, painting or what other talent someone may have. The folks that don’t do usually are the biggest complainers, like maybe it is their duty to set the world straight.

    Great motivation to get the fingers to the keyboard and start cranking out good content.


    • Josh January 20, 2013 at 11:54 pm

      Hi Mary,

      I think many of us can relate to it on both sides, as child and parent.

      I don’t mind balanced criticism that relates to what I have written and isn’t a personal attack. That personal stuff doesn’t move the conversation forward and just makes things ugly so it seems like a big waste of time.

      It is easier to me to take a chance and see what happens than do nothing at all. Rather be a doer than a complainer.

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