The Deadly Ruse of Perfectionism

I know too many people who get hooked into the idea that if their work isn’t flawless it must be crap. So until the book (screenplay, short film, opera) reaches 100% perfection it’s not worth putting out there. It’s a romantic notion in some ways, I suppose, but it’s also like the mythological Sirens, whose enchanting voices lured sailors to their death.

Shipwreck - Joseph Vernet

Perfectionism is a trap. It lures us in by making us think it is real. Attainable. Heck, it’s even considered noble in our society to strive for perfection. But surrounding this Isle of No Return (where countless works of art have crashed and burned) are the murky waters of human insecurity. Perfectionism seems like the answer to all of our doubts and fears. It’s not.

Why? Because the quest for perfectionism (as enchanting as it may be) is a trap. Think about it. If the goal is absolute flawlessness, the project will never be done. There will always be something to “fix”. Infinities could spin out from the cosmos, sparking new life and unimagined galaxies and the book (or screenplay, or short film, or blog post) will still be sitting in the editing phase.

Perfectionism is the enemy of creation. As a former “perfectioneer” I’ve come to believe that perfectionism isn’t about putting in the work. It’s not about best effort. It’s about finding defeat. In this way, it is actually the enemy of creation. It eliminates play, which is an inherent part of creativity and one that allows diversity to exist. It drowns the voice of the muse, suffocates intuition, slaughters poems, burns books, destroys films and utterly annihilates the individual song.

Who knows how many important works have already been lost to the cry, “My stuff isn’t good enough!”

Which is why I’m asking you (whoever you are) to soldier on. We probably need whatever project has inspired you to bring it to life. And if you let it crash on the shores of perfectionism…? Well, it may never come again.