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Not perfect? So what – start anyway!

“Hardest of all [fears for writers to overcome] is to accept that the world one has created won’t be as good as the world one dreamed of writing about. It never is… One thing that separates would-be writers from working writers is that the latter know their work will never match their dreams.”

– Ralph Keyes: The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear


I have spent the past several months (months!) agonizingly unable to get started on a writing project that I care deeply about doing. Finally, in desperation, I pulled the book quoted above off the bookshelf and read it again. And those words jumped off the page and hit me in the face.

I have this beautiful mental image of what I want the final product to look like. The wording will flow eloquently and effortlessly in a way that moves readers to think, and then to act. The graphic design will be memorable enough to stand out in a world already crowded with memorable graphic designs.

And then I sit down at a yellow pad (I still write first drafts the old-fashioned way) and the words of my hand crucify the vision in my head. Keyes quotes author Iris Murdoch as saying: “Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea.”

Before I’m halfway down the first page of my yellow pad, my perfect idea has become the casualty of a head-on collision with my much less-than-perfect execution of that idea. So I’ve set it aside, telling myself that inspiration would strike later – but knowing that was pure self-deception, that I was just giving in to what Steven Pressfield, in his indispensable book The War of Art, calls Resistance.

Rereading The Courage to Write, and especially that section, has been – well, liberating is not quite the right word because it is still painful to see the actual words fall so short of the imagined finished work – but sufficiently comforting to keep my pen moving across the page (the excellent advice of Natalie Goldberg in her book Writing Down the Bones).

Keyes also quotes William Faulkner: “All of us failed to match our dream of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible.”

So here’s a question for you: What goal or dream is stewing away on your back burner because every time you get started the fear that the final product won’t live up to the inaugural dream paralyzes you? Can you give yourself permission to start on it anyway, and then to send it out to the world in all its glorious imperfection?

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to keep my own pen moving across the page.

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