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The hell with perfection

Joshua Allen writes:

So Iím coming out and admitting that this site is unfinished, that the thoughts are hitting the screen as they pop into my head, that itís not crafted and complete, itís not a published novel that you happen to be reading on a computer, and yes, goddammit fuck you, I am writing these words to a general audience with the assumption that they will be read and thrown away within the week.

And I gotta say, Well, duh.

It's a weird thing about publishing. People think, if a thing's permanent or public (or, worse, both) it's gotta be "right" somehow. Some people even think it's got to be perfect.* But it doesn't. On the contrary, simply wanting to share something is perfectly sufficient reason for self-publishing it, no matter how good it is in other people's estimation. Hell, simply feeling like it is sufficient reason to self-publish. No excuses necessary, thank you very much.

But, unfortunately, some people believe otherwise. It's a costly mistake, as Allen's four screens of 12px text attest, not to mention all that "clenching" he describes doing, trying not to ever go wrong. It's costly because, for one thing, while it's right to want to do something worthwhile, finding your way there by trial and error can be very effective; and very few of us, even ones as talented as Mr. Allen, trying to write something truly good, will nail it every time. And it's also costly because worrying about imperfections (which isn't quite the same but is rooted in the same fear of (or at least distaste for) judgment), as people also do, means worrying about precisely the wrong things — the little things, instead of the big ones.

It's not just websites that can and should yet remain flawed and unfinished. Very few things are worth the effort of trying to make them perfect. Perfection isn't a value; it's just a preemptive defense against pedants and perfectionists — souls clenching even tighter than Allen was. They only care about the little things — the things that, by definition, don't really matter, and that everyone inevitably gets at least one of wrong. Who cares what they think? Fuck the little things; just work on the big things, and let the pedants suck it. (Do as Allen finally does, and tell them, yes, goddammit fuck you.) Because the big things are actually worth it; getting even a single one right is rare enough, and hardly diminished by a typo, or even by having spent a few months — gasp — posting links to Textism.

Don't sweat it. Just write.

*Artists and wannabes tend to have this the worst, it seems (though Allen isn't so much a wannabe, so far as I know). And, of those I know, incredibly, published scientists seem to have it the least; so long as there's data, they'll go with it. A physicist friend of mine used to have to argue with an advisor that mistakes in papers submitted to journals had to be caught and fixed; his advisor was like, If it's wrong and it matters, someone else will fix it, and if it doesn't matter, who cares?

January 10, 2003 12:14 AM


You're spot-on, Matt. So much so that you inspired me to blog back:

Posted by Jen on January 11, 2003 7:41 PM

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