Decision Point. Set. Match.

Anyone else feeling overrun with decisions that need to be made lately? What’s the perfect holiday gift? Do we invite the family to stay with us, or travel to them? It’s not just the holidays, though they seem to make it all a bit more anxiety-inducing. Personally, I’ve been staring down my mental decision trees for so long now, all I see is brambles. For example, with five days of NaNoWriMo remaining, I was noodling through the following: tether myself to my computer, coming up only for life-sustaining necessities, in order to churn out approximately 5,0000 words per day to make the 50K finish line; OR be (relatively) normal, but fail to qualify as a “winner” this year. 

For some of you, this isn’t much of a conundrum. For me at the time, the decision wasn’t straight forward. In retrospect, it felt like a microcosmic reflection of a number of decisions that have been tripping through my mind lately, and which, like the cosmos itself, are expanding ever outward in scope and importance. Should Julie and I continue feeding energy into this blog or use that time and effort for other writing goals? Should my family stay the course on limiting screen time for the kiddo, or use the electronic babysitter to create more time for my husband and I to get work done? Do we continue here in New York or once again go adventuring? Etc., etc. And I always wonder, even when the issues appear entirely disparate, how will any one of these decisions impact the others? 

Photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash

Back to NaNo and my pie-in-the-sky goals, the last five days of November this year included Thanksgiving, complete with family commitments (and actual pie), not to mention a host of other seasonal temptations. Perhaps these facts are enough to drive you firmly in a certain direction. For me, though, the pull between “winning” and “family” is stronger than I should probably admit. Even though I do really believe that every word written is in itself a win, the decision to give up going for the gold was still tough. 

What pushed me over the tipping point, however, wasn’t family, nor missing out on Black Friday (which turned out to be one of my higher word count days), but the needs of my story. Sure, I could have rushed it. It wouldn’t have been the first time (hello, NaNo manuscripts from 2014-2017). While I still believe there is a certain dark logic in the adage, ‘don’t get it right, get it written,’ admittedly, it can make the revision process not just longer, but hairier . It’s one thing to realize you have a plot hole or two, or a character that isn’t fully developed, or an internal inconsistency – it’s another thing all together to realize you’re staring down all this AND MORE as you start your revisions. So, in the end, I decided discretion was the better part of valor this time and I’d let my story continue to spin out at its own pace. Which is to say, I’m hoping to be done with the draft before Christmas, but I’m willing to give it the time that it needs, even if that means I’m still plugging away at the first draft into 2020. 

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Striving for Progress

“The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

– Voltaire

This has become one of my go-to phrases over the years, though it was only in researching this article that I found out who originally said it.  Voltaire’s words apparently best translate to “the best is the enemy of the good,” but that makes me like the phrase even better because now I can appreciate how a little imperfection in the translation actually made it better.

Years before Gretchin Rubin brought this quote back in vogue in her 2009 chronicle The Happiness Project, I first heard this line from a bunch of crusty old CIA officers trying to train the new recruits. They’d fling Voltaire’s pearls before us swine with the same intensity they brought to every lesson, condemning our Type A-ness as a potentially life-threatening flaw, while, in the next breath, berating us for achieving anything less than 97 percent. (Of course, none of those guys ever attributed the quote to Voltaire, though I suspect that they kept the source to themselves out of a matter of habit rather than ignorance. That, and because admitting to knowing Voltaire would have put a chink in the battle-hardened, professor-of-the-real-world exterior they worked diligently to maintain.)

But Ms. Rubin and those cranky old men would all agree (a weird mental image, let me tell you) that perfection is illusory. It’s the destination you’ll never arrive at – the mirage on the horizon. It’s one more hill to climb; one of your own making! Chasing it is a waste of time and, possibly, a surfeit of hubris. Keep that in mind the next time you’re panting to get through one more round of revisions or the ‘perfect’ birthday craft project.

But if we’re not striving for perfection, what are we striving for? Personally, I’m on board with the wisdom of my son’s super-inspiring pre-K teachers who say “practice makes progress,” rather than the much more restrictive and anxiety-producing adage I grew up with.

Here’s the catch, and you Type A’s out there will have already identified this: if we’re exchanging perfection for progress as our goal, how do we know when we’ve hit the mark? How do we know when we’ve lived up to our full potential as writers, or *gulp!* parents? If we don’t have perfection as our destination, how can we tell if we’ve done enough?

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