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Perfectionism vs. Progress: When Is Good Good Enough?

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  • How good does your manuscript have to be before you submit it to an agent or editor?
  • How good does your website need to be before you launch it?
  • How good does your performance need to be before you debut?
  • How good do your recordings need to be before you release them?

People who are passionate about what they create—whose lives are defined by what they create—will often emphasize quality above all else, and can be unrelenting perfectionists.

It's something I deeply admire. I like people who don't compromise on quality, especially when what they create so closely represents (or IS) who they are.

On the other hand, I've seen many journeys come to an absolute stand still due to perfectionism. It can prevent people from making progress.

It's impossible to be perfect the first time out when writing a novel. But maybe it's as perfect as you can make it given where you're at in the journey.

It's like what Ira Glass has said: There is the excellence (or quality) you can see and appreciate—and then there is what you're actually capable of.

This can cause paralysis.

The Conductor and I had a minor disagreement on the issue when discussing a Cincinnati musician who's talented, but a perfectionist. I wondered if this musician was getting too hung up on the details that wouldn't ultimately affect his success. The Conductor felt like perfectionism was absolutely required to set this musician apart from others—it was to be commended.

And I have to admit, I always want writers to slow down, and not rush to submit, and take the utmost care and consideration in revising and preparing their material for agents and editors. And to be tough on themselves.

But deep down, I wonder if some of us use perfectionism as an excuse, which results in self-sabotage—when we fear the result of putting our work out there, when we fear being rejected, when we fear failing.

credit: Gustavo G

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