I am thinking about perfection. I happily admit to being a perfectionist. Not about everything, mind you. But when it comes to writing — and writing fiction, particularly — I obsess. I consider myself a technician, deeply interested in grammatical construction and the very tiniest of word choices. You would not believe how long I can suffer over the inclusion or removal of a “the.”
But as I read these page proofs, I’m starting to question my obsession with perfection. I mean, for me it’s the way I do it and I’m not likely to change what’s working. But I’m seeing that it may not be that important in the end. In the end, a story, a whole book, it works because it leaves the reader with an impression, an emotional impression, something intangible that exists because it exists. Not because a “the” was removed. I’m not speaking against a careful craft, please understand.
I am speaking against perfection.
Sometimes, the imperfection of my creations bothers me. I’ve worked so hard and yet I know here and there is a paragraph too many or a flabby word choice that I cannot budge. But when I let myself sink into what I’ve made and forget about how it could or should be perfected, I am moved by what is being offered. To do this requires me to place a layer of distance between myself and my words, almost to read as if I were someone else.
When I consider my favourite books by other people, none are perfect — and I couldn’t care less. It’s how they make me feel when I read them that matters. It’s that they make me feel. They catch me off guard. They push me. Or they lift me. And though these books almost all display technical accomplishment, it is not for their technical accomplishments that I love them. I love them for existing.
That is the kind of book I hope to write; I hope to have written. Imperfect. With feeling.
I am loving this quiet week in my office, reading words on the page that I’ve written, gathered into a whole. I am loving being pulled right through the book from beginning to end and understanding its wholeness differently, in a new way. This feels like a special and unusual experience. I don’t expect to have it again anytime soon. I am savouring it.
P.S. The photo is a detail of a photo that depicts me posing in costume to look like a very old family photograph of my Great-Grandma Carrie Anne, my namesake. (A little more about Carrie Anne here.) The photo was taken for a photo project by Ilia Horsburgh.