August 6, 2010

When does a Perfectionist call something DONE?

Edited Words

This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, but people have asked me about it, so here goes: I’m not perfect. Yep, it’s true.  Just because I’m a perfectionist does not mean that I am, in fact, perfect.  Far from it to be honest.  It only means that I really, really, really want my work to be close to perfect.

So how many times should I check my work before calling it done?  Is 3 times enough?  5?  10?  50?  100?  Do you sense an OCD issue here?  Hmm, maybe…

How can I, or any perfectionist, know when to call something done and set it loose in the world?  When should we implement our design, set in motion our project plan, or test our new recipe on unsuspecting guests?  When should we publish this blog post for crying out loud?  When is it “good enough”?

That’s a tough question for a perfectionist.  After all, we don’t want something to be good enough—we want it to be perfect.  But no one on this earth is perfect, so that’s an impossible goal.  A compromise has to be found somewhere.

In the real world, that compromise is sometimes forced upon us by deadlines.  But what if there aren’t any deadlines?  What if the call is entirely up to you?

This brings me to one of the big lessons I learned at the RWA National Conference.  The best-selling author Eloisa James gave this advice when asked how she knew when her stories were done:

When all you’re doing is changing your word choices, you’re done.

Okay, what does that mean?  In the world of writing, that means that when the structure of the story is solid, when there aren’t any plot holes, when the story and character arcs are emotionally sound, when the story flows and compels you to turn the page—you’re done.  If all you’re doing is tweaking one little word here or there—stop.  Because that will never end.  The words you choose will change from day-to-day based on your mood.  Focus on the big picture instead.  Is that picture great?  Then be proud of your work and call it done.

Can this lesson be applied outside the world of writing?  I think so.  Have you ever enjoyed the first couple of bites of a dessert and then by the end, it tastes too sweet, too chocolaty, or too something?  Same thing.  Our preferences can change.  It doesn’t mean there was anything wrong with the dessert at the beginning.  With a recipe, one day you might decide that it needs 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon, but on another day, a 1/2 teaspoon might hit the spot for your taste buds.

In other words, the tweaking never ends.

So if all you’re doing is tweaking a design that already works, step away from the computer, drafting table, or kitchen counter and force yourself to call it done.

Any fellow perfectionists out there?  How do you know when your work is done?  Or are you forever tweaking things?

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This is so true! I’ll even forgive the fact that you used a dessert analogy. You and you’re sweet tooth! 😉

Rachel Kleinsorge
Rachel Kleinsorge

I call that the ‘fiddle factor’. You’re not really making it better, you’re just fiddling with it. It eats up precious time, costs money, and doesn’t really make a substantial difference in the quality of the product. Remember, a job work doing is a job worth finishing!

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