I read an article a little while ago (and can’t for the life of me find) on how to work efficiently and, most of it, I really liked. There were interesting bits in there on how, if we’re ill, we should actually take the day off because, according to research, it’ll make us far, far more productive than snivelling through a could or whatever. And I can see the logic in that.
But the bit that stuck with me was the 60% rule. The article talked about how perfectionism is the enemy of doing good stuff because it causes us to be obsessive in chasing something that doesn’t actually exist. It makes sense. You know, nothing is perfect. So, if most things are 60% okay then they’re probably good enough.
When I thought about that in terms of my own work I naturally looked at it in terms of stories, and got round, pretty quickly, to thinking what percentage I’d leave mine at. 60% is miles away. I couldn’t be further from being a perfectionist (you should see my office here, or my flat, or just ask anyone who knows me) but when it comes to stories – I don’t know. I know when I’m writing and editing them I absolutely aim for 100% because there’s simply not room for any slackness. I don’t aim to be good, I aim to be brilliant. I don’t want to write something that’s okay, I want everything I write to mind-blowingly fucking awesome. Of course, I never get there (a combination of me not being good enough enough as well as the fact that there’s no such thing as perfection) but that’s how it feels and that’s why, when I’m writing – especially towards the end of something – there’s a weird adeline/panic/terror/nausea thing going on – it’s because everything, every tiny detail is vitally important. It’s because the story is vitally important. And I think that’s how it should be.
Often it turns out that that’s not the case – often, especially when I was younger, the story’s ended up being rubbish or not what I thought it’d be and, although I think I’m better at judging what’s going to turn out okay now I think that panic of needing to make this thing as good as I possibly can even if it kills me is good. Not only does it mean I care it means I’m sweating for it – often over days and weeks. Writing good stuff is rarely easy. Often it’s pretty painful.
And, again, looking back at all the stories I’ve had published I can say I’m proud of them. There are some I’ve written (again, when I was younger) when I thought they were done at 80% or 90% or whatever and, you know what, they’re not so great (I came across a few over the holidays while I was sorting out my files). They’re not going to get read at readings or go in books. The others I like, and I’m proud of. Some I even love. None of them are 100% right though, but that’s okay because I tried to get them there at the time.
So, I guess my message (buried deep in this waffle) is: if you’re writing, try hard. Try very hard indeed. And, you know what, you can get there.