The Impossibility of Perfection

The Impossibility of Perfection

Practice makes perfect. That’s what they say. But who are they? What makes them such experts on the subject of perfection? And what is perfection, anyway?

Webster’s says:

1: the quality or state of being perfect: such as

      a:freedom from fault or defect: flawlessness (emphasis added)

So, flawlessness. That’s a gigantic hurdle to leap; I think you’ll agree. The absolute absence of any error… Not even an extra white space between words on accident that nobody catches. But somebody will…

I recently gave an Advanced Reader’s Copy of my upcoming novel, False Gods, to an acquaintance to read. She was kind enough to accept my terms: that I was broke, and didn’t charge me. I am forever in her debt (quite literally, I’m afraid). Of course, I’m joking. She did this for me as a favor, and I do appreciate it. No, I will not tell you her name, but it rhymes with… no, seriously, I’m not going to tell you.

As it happens (and it often does), she was able to point out something to me that roughly fifty other people had missed, including me. Some of my characters have very similar names. I mean, not like, Ron and Don, or, Phil and Bill. My character’s names are far more complex. My defense, was the fact that my world is an alien world, and alien people name their kids things that are similar; maybe they even rhyme… What am I supposed to do about the way aliens name their kids? Is that my fault?

Of course not, and of course, I’m joking again.

That manuscript played across my eyes at least twenty times. Beta readers read it (and they can be really hard on you, sniff). My editor read it several times—once, line by line. The point I’m trying to make is, perfection is a never-ending spiral, ever decreasing toward an infinitesimally small point that shrinks, the closer you get. You’ll never make it there.

Think of all the things that get recalled: cars, baby beds, salmonella-laced salads. All of those products have something in common: their manufacturers all thought they’d produced a fine item, guaranteed to last until just after the warranty runs out. A finely engineered piece of, whatever it was you bought… But each one had a problem. Someone discovered the bad: the mistake; the thing you missed because you were so focused on everything at once that it slipped by you, like the fact that some of your characters names might accidentally rhyme.

I like rhymes. Did I ever tell you how much I like poetry?

Ok, so some of my character’s names rhyme, so what? And that’s my point and the point of this article. Perfection is impossible, and attempting to achieve it will drive you mad. You will edit your book many times. Many other people will read your book, and some will also edit it. In the end, it will be published, and you will download a copy.

And on page 132, just after the big scene where the thing explodes, and the captain is yelling, “Hey! Get your butts in here, I ain’t waiting.” You’ll look at the next line of narrative, and there will be no period at the end (period intentionally left out, to prove a point)

Sometimes, the best you can do is the best you can do, and that’s all right. I still find errors in major publishing house books. It reminds me that no one’s perfect. But then, no one needs to be. You only have to be the best you can. And that will be enough.