Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien. (The perfect is the enemy of the good)
– Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet)
There are dozens of ways to interpret the above quote, but the one I’d like to wave around is: don’t let your efforts to achieve near-impossible perfection prevent you from getting your work done in the first place.
Recently I was asked to provide an expert opinion for a fantastic blog on Science in Science Fiction, and Fact in Fantasy. I thought, yeah, of course I could write about that. I have acquired knowledge through sweat-experience and collegiate study. I can totally do that. Then I read the rest of the blog to see where the bar had been set, panicked, and passed up the chance.
This happens to everyone. Impostor syndrome is when you find yourself in the position of a pro, an expert, or any other perceived high level, and you lose your nerve. You don’t believe you belong there, and walk out — transforming that belief into reality.
Could I have provided an article on par with what had been previously posted? Most likely, yes, but we’ll never know, because I didn’t do it.
I’m almost done re-cutting UDI271, which was the show we did last year. Now that I’ve listened to the audio four hundred million times, I have to say — this is not my best work. It is exactly the kind of B-movie meets Afterschool Special you’d expect for cranking out a play at 1am the night of a deadline. When I think about the other stories and books I’ve written, this doesn’t even really feel like it’s mine. The tone is odd. The voice is odd. The bad guys aren’t that scary, and the resolution is so neat and happy a middle-grade audience would be on board. I could Alan Smithee this thing, but I won’t. It’s not perfect, it’s not great; but it’s good.
Why is it Good?
1. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
2. It has interesting characters with complex histories.
3. It dances from complex philosophy and terrible puns with remarkable agility.
4. My lead actors were phenomenal.
5. It taught me how to be a director: to build a schedule, to have a master plan, to accept input and then filter it as appropriate.
6. I learned about audio software like GoldWave and Audacity.
7. I learned how much time and energy goes into producing a radio play, from concept, to script, to rehearsals, to re-casting, to making mistakes in public, to post-production.
8. I was asked to produce work, outside my medium, on a deadline, and we all saw it through to the end, on schedule.
Why did it miss Perfection?
1. There are a lot of skills I don’t have yet.
2. Technical difficulties.
For all of its flaws, I still plan to post it. I have some control over #1, and little control over #2. This work has helped me established a baseline for my own ability so I know to read more, or outsource, next time. If I had waited for it to be perfect, it would never have gotten done.
If I hadn’t done it, I wouldn’t have learned anything.
There will be times when you think it’s not perfect, but good; and the work actually sucks. You will fall on your face. That happens too. Try, fail, fail better. That was Kurt Vonnegut, wasn’t it? No — no, that was Samuel Beckett.
Was Beckett good, or perfect?
I, for one, will never say.
Worldcon in Spokane is happening. My schedule might be finalized. See you there!