Or How I Learned to Stop Tweaking and Ship My Art
A funny thing happens when you stop trying so hard to be perfect. You start creating work you really love. Perfection is this ugly Hydra of a thing. You think you have one problem licked and another grows a new head in its place.
As creatives we start with this idea — a fragile, tiny idea that burns a hole inside us until we can’t function until the idea gets out. We work on this thing and tweak it to death, thinking one more adjustment will make it perfect. One. More. Wrench-turn.
Then we ruin it. Indefinite meddling takes the life from your work. The original idea gets lost in the fiddling and the piece left over is a stain of the concept that fired you up in the first place.
The start-ups have it figured out.
Software developers use the minimum viable product (MVP) method. They create a great product their audience will love, with the fewest bells and whistles possible. Once the MVP launches they adjust the product to make it better. We get version 1.3, 3.0, etc. The software is never perfect. These folks know it and accept it.
Why is perfection so hard for creatives to avoid? It’s like a shiny prize at the end of a tunnel. The problem is that we’re in the wrong tunnel. When we don’t create the thing for the sake of creating the thing, we end up chasing the end result (money, fame, awards, likes, recognition, etc.)
When we chase the result we chase perfection. And perfection’s a fool’s errand.
Wabi-Sabi is the Japanese design philosophy of finding the perfect in imperfection. Whether its a rusty piece of steel, a well-positioned bundle of broken sticks, or a collection of chipped ceramics, there’s perfection in everything.
Wabi-sabi is the answer to creation for creation’s sake. Here, we find the core of what lights our fire and why we wanted to create to begin with. The perfection myth comes along with the other story associated with the work.
When we take the extra story away, the dream we’re chasing on the back-end of the work, we take away the pursuit of perfection.
But you can’t just ship anything and be content with the final product.
So, what’s the metric? What is good enough, what is too far, and what has no business in front of another human being? There’s no simple answer. The metric I use is the expectation of the market.
If I’m making something just for me, I can tweak the project to death. If there’s a customer behind the project I must learn the core expectations of my market — that’s the baseline.
When you know the baseline, you’ve got to exceed it to make your audience happy, but you still have to ship your work. As creatives we must operate within the small, ethereal window between the baseline, and un-obtainable perfection.
Striving for perfection could paralyze you. Instead, ship your best work, try to get 1% better every day, and make sure to pay attention to the baseline expectations of your audience.
August Birch (AKA the Book Mechanic) is both a fiction and non-fiction author from Michigan, USA. As a self-proclaimed guardian of writers and creators, August teaches indie authors how to write books that sell and how to sell more of those books once they’re written. When he’s not writing or thinking about writing August carries a pocket knife and shaves his head with a safety razor.