I’ve been helping my mom find a new house for the last few weeks, and it’s been an eye-opening experience. Where my mother goes from room to room finding something wrong with every place she looks at, I look around and catalogue what I could live with, what could be fixed, and what is ‘right out’. The funny thing is, both of us have valid points! As a writer, I have to recognize when to go with ‘good enough’ and when not to.
‘Good enough’ is important when I’m getting the first draft of a scene down. The amount of detailed description, the flow of action, the rhythm of the dialogue may not be exactly what I want, but it’s good enough to show character motivations and conflict. There’s enough background information. I know when the scene is finished what needs to happen next. As I am blessed (or cursed) with a detail-oriented brain, it goes against my nature to leave a scene in its rough form, but sometimes I have to just so that I can keep moving forward.
I have learned to appreciate ‘good enough’ in day to day life as well. It’s liberating to look around, say “This is nice!” and not obsess over every aching detail. ‘Good enough’ allows me to prioritize the big picture. The patio set that almost but doesn’t quite match the trim on the house, but it’s on sale? Good enough for me. The small gradation in color won’t keep me up nights and I’d rather have the cash. The dress fits correctly and flatters my figure and coloring? I’ll take it and be on my merry way, instead of going through racks again and again looking for a better price or the absolutely perfect dress. (By the time I hit the dressing room, I’ll have gone through the sale racks already, lol.) I’ll take extra care shopping for my mother of the bride dress, but I know I’ll find something I’ll like. ‘Good enough’ gives me a lot of options.
I don’t look for the perfect anything, to be honest, except for shoes. I have a small foot and it’s hard to find shoes that fit right. Finding cute shoes that fit right is even harder. I can buy them online, but sometimes sizes don’t match up or the color is off. I hate bad shoes because I’ve had to settle for so many pairs of them over the years.
Footwear aside, I learned a few decades ago that ‘perfect’ is my enemy. Perfection belongs to the Divine; us humans aren’t going to measure up. I’ve known a few perfectionists in my time, and all of them were terribly unhappy people. They expected the perfect mate, the perfect body, the perfect job — and doomed themselves because no human or place is ever perfect. No one gets every single thing they want all the time! Perfectionists make everyone around them pretty miserable too, since their friends and family have to listen to their complaints.
This is not to say we shouldn’t try our best! When I revisit those first draft scenes, there are plenty of things to fix. On the second pass, and the third or fourth, the thesaurus and dictionary come out, so I can find the exact words needed. I close my eyes to visualize precisely what I want the reader to see or feel. I pull out research notes to check historical details. Then I show it to my critique partners so they can identify weaknesses I missed. The ability to write is a gift, and readers who pay good money for my work deserve the best I can give. My best writing shows my true voice, for better or worse. It won’t be perfect, but it will be MY best.
And as for Mom? She’s just looking for her best, too. After all, she’ll have to live with her decision for years. Nobody wants a house that makes them cringe every time they walk into it. Where I can make allowances for small issues, she wants to find something affordable, where she’ll feel secure and comfortable, with room for her furniture and pictures and knickknacks. Once she finds the house that is her best option, she’ll stop fussing and settle in. It won’t be perfect, but will be her best choice.
What are the things you can shrug off and say ‘good enough’ to? What do you really need to be as good as humanly possible? What do you love to do your best at?
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