Perfectionism vs. Progress: When Is Good Good Enough?

Publish date:
Image placeholder title
  • 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


Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Relying on Perfect Conditions to Write

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake writers make is relying on perfect conditions to write.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: Contest Deadline Announcement and a Flash Fiction Challenge

This week, we’re excited to announce the deadline for our Self-Published Book Awards, the guidelines for the upcoming Flash Fiction Challenge, and more!


For the Travel and Nature Writer: Keeping Your Mind Sharp and Words Insightful

Dr. Caitlin O'Connell shares some insight for travel and nature writers, including how travel helps keep your mind sharp and words insightful, whether you're writing fiction, nonfiction, sports, politics, or something else entirely.


Olga Grushin: The No Man's Land Between Genres

Award-winning author Olga Grushin discusses what it meant to wade into a new genre and how she put her spin on the fairy tale retelling.

Poetic Forms

Rannaigecht Mor Gairit: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the rannaigecht mor gairit, a variant form of the rannaigecht.


The Writer, The Inner Critic, & The Slacker

Author and writing professor Alexander Weinstein explains the three parts of a writer's psyche, how they can work against the writer, and how to utilize them for success.


Todd Stottlemyre: On Mixing and Bending Genres

Author Todd Stottlemyre explains how he combined fiction and nonfiction in his latest book and what it meant as a writer to share his personal experiences.


Plot Twist Story Prompts: Take a Trip

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character take a trip somewhere.


Making the Switch from Romance to Women’s Fiction

In this article, author Jennifer Probst explains the differences between romance and women's fiction, the importance of both, and how you can make the genre switch.