PERSPECTIVES: The Paralysis of Perfection

Every couple of weeks or so, I get the inspiration for a perfect scene, line of dialog, visual framing, or other neat bit of creative expression.

Usually, that perfect inspiration has absolutely nothing to do with the project I am working on at the time. Frequently it falls outside of any of my projects, existing in a universe all it’s own. There it will sit and nag me, demanding an equally perfect completed project to wrap around it.

Of course, perfect projects are nigh impossible. You know that. Every project ultimately is a compromise between what your head imagines you should do and what your resources, skill, and collaborators can actually accomplish. But knowing that and accepting it are two different things. That little nugget of perfection will exploit that, and thereby create a kind of creative brain lock.

Take this article for instance. It seemed like a grand idea when I had it, so I booked it onto the editorial calendar and went on with my day. Or rather, I went on with occasional interruptions from the concept, trying to work out that perfect article to support the original premise. Several times. In several different directions. And none of them were quite perfect enough.

And then when I started to write about it all those thoughtful thoughts and meaningful musings had very much evaporated. And because they’d never been perfect enough, I hadn’t ever felt like it was time to write them down.

So they were gone. And now I have to get this done by starting over just before deadline.

I’ve been for many years engaged in the information technology industry. That’s what the other half of my brain does when the creative half is resting. In that industry, the necessity of having a backup of your data is a core concept. You just do it, without exception, because sooner or later something somewhere will fail. It doesn’t matter if the data is perfect, finished, or even particularly useful at the time, you back it up.

Then when the failure occurs, and it will occur, you won’t be sitting there just before the deadline starting from scratch.

So the moral of the story is “Always carry a good backup”.

When you get that idea, write it down. When it spawns other ideas, write them down too, even if you know at the time they’re probably absolute trash. Because tomorrow, or next week, or next year, they may not be. You can always edit, if you’ve got enough content. If you never have it, you won’t get the chance to “fix it in post”.

I’m old school and have a ton of notebooks and sketchbooks. And I’m guilty of postponing putting an idea on paper because I didn’t have the “right” notebook. But that’s really stupid. In the worst case, you can cross-reference it into the right notebook when you have it at hand. The important part is preserving that moment of inspiration and the chain of alternative ideas that organically spring from it.

There’s really no excuse these days. Almost every one of us is carrying a simple and powerful recording device around with us. Our smartphones typically offer the ability to write notes, take photos, and record audio and video. This frequently can be combined with a cloud based scrapbook or notebook application to insure permanence of the data and accessibility across multiple systems. And if you still need to touch it, you can always print it out from a connected device.

Don’t let perfection paralyze you. If you record and connect all the inspiration that comes your way, you’ll be able to sort through it to find a better, and perhaps a best, version to finish out. There is no perfect. There’s only the best you can do with what you have. When you have a lot to choose from, you never know what you may be able to create.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *