Missed Part 2? Read it here.
“The Importance of Imperfection”
So, let’s take a hypothetical situation here. Let’s pretend we’ve written something stupid, incoherent, and laughable. But let’s also pretend that we wrote it for fun. Let’s pretend we wrote it knowing it would be stupid, incoherent, and laughable. Should we present it to the public?
I’ve been part of two camps when it comes to authorship: professionalism and completionism. With professionalism, we acknowledge that we have a goal to produce quality work for a quality customer. If the work we produce falls apart, injures the end user, or sows the seeds of discord, we probably don’t want to share it with the public, not unless we’re evil supervillains bent on taking over the world. Doing so could damage our brands. However, with completionism, if we have the obsessive-compulsive need to provide everything we’ve produced to satisfy those obsessive-compulsive collectors who wish to acquire our entire inventory of products, past, present, future, forgotten, conceptual, and should’ve-been-destroyed, then it might make sense to share it all with the public, warts included, even if presenting ugly work will still, inevitably, damage our brands. I can sometimes justify leaning on both, as professionalism will keep people coming back for more while completionism will give true fans a chance to see a career charted, from terrible failures to resounding successes, and feel as though they are part of the author’s journey toward greatness. We all want to be a part of something great, don’t we? But should there be a choice between professionalism and completionism? Can both coexist?
In either case, we have to acknowledge that genius is rare, crap is inevitable, and neither should end a person’s career before it begins. Consider this: The original draft of To Kill a Mockingbird was probably decent but lackluster. Harper Lee had time to refine it, of course, and refine it she did. She refined it so well that high schools now teach it as important literature. But, one of the reasons she could refine it so well was because she had actually written Go Set a Watchman first, which wasn’t so well-refined, and her editor knew that and convinced her to write a prequel and release that book instead. Her experience with the first book not only helped her to figure out her story and characters, but it allowed her to write a masterwork for her second.
But, was writing and releasing a perfect novel on her second attempt really the best thing for Harper Lee, or for her readers for that matter? For over five decades, To Kill a Mockingbird was the only Harper Lee book we knew. Go Set a Watchman is older than To Kill a Mockingbird, yet Harper Lee was wise to hold it back for as long as she had, according to her editor, her sister, and probably many others, for it does not measure up to the same quality standard as To Kill a Mockingbird, not then, and not now, and to release anything of lower quality would have inevitably driven down her author stock. If we consider her legacy, however, we could argue that maybe she should have released it sooner anyway, perfect or not.
Question is, why could we argue something so preposterous? If releasing Go Set a Watchman could damage her perfect record, then why bother releasing it at all, decades ago, or even today? Didn’t we ruin Jurassic Park with all of those terrible sequels? Isn’t Star Wars tainted by those awful prequels? If we had left Indiana Jones with just three movies, couldn’t we say, forever, that it’s the perfect adventure series, and not one where the hero can survive a nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator?
Maybe the release of Go Set a Watchman in the 1950s or 1960s would’ve damaged her perfect record. But it also could’ve led her to writing and releasing a third book, a fourth, and so on, furthering her career, as now the high standard set by To Kill a Mockingbird has been challenged and ultimately failed to match, and thus the need to remain perfect is diminished. Maybe by failing at sustained perfection, the world could’ve been blessed with a vast library of Harper Lee books to follow, ranging across decades of southern life, with some being lackluster, but others being masterworks. If only she (and her editor) had just taken the chance to release Go Set a Watchman to the public decades sooner, we might’ve seen a brilliant writer fulfill her brilliant destiny of having a robust range of brilliant titles in her bibliography instead of just two (one perfect and one flawed).
We want to produce perfection, and we want to make sure that perfection is all the world will see from us. But, if we wait on perfection, we will never build our careers. Likewise, we potentially shoot ourselves in the foot if we achieve perfection anyway. Think about that. I’ve been saying for the last year or so, “We can’t improve on perfection. Any change we make to it will just make it worse.” If we write the perfect book, we damn ourselves to that perfection, and we can never write anything else ever again, lest we ruin our perfect reputations. So, maybe it’s better that we tell ourselves it’s okay to write crap, and that it’s okay to release it to the public whenever it reaches a stage just above crap. Maybe we’ll give ourselves a chance to succeed with that attitude.
If the masters want to stall their careers because they’ve achieved self-actualization, that’s their business. I like writing, and I like sharing it with anyone who identifies as a fan, so I’ll keep producing, even if it’s simply enjoyable and less than life-changing. Doesn’t mean I won’t try to write the stuff that impacts the world. Just means I’ll probably follow it up with something fun. After all, Nicholas Cage may have won the Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas, but it didn’t stop him from following it with Con Air and Face/Off. And let’s be honest, the world is better off for that decision.
Next Week: “The Importance of Managing Fun“