Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Against Perfection

A grad student tells me how much it helped him with his novel-in-progress when he heard, "Done is better than perfect." I looked at him a moment and then said, "But there is only done. Perfect is a myth. You know that right?" He looked at me blankly for a moment. I went on to say something like, "Give me a novelist who thinks he's written the perfect novel and I'll give you someone who's delusional or artistically paralyzed." When we teach novels, those we've annointed, we have to be clear -- especially when teaching writers -- that no novel is perfect, especially in the eyes of the novelist who wrote it, but also it can never be perfect because the novel is a collaboration between writer and reader. A reader, just like the novelist who wrote the novel, is also always changing; there are two bodies of water here. What was perfect when read at 22 shouldn't be perfect when read much later; or what is perfect when read in old age shouldn't necessarily be perfect for your grandchild. At least, not to my mind. You all can argue this below if you want. But perfect is damaging. It's the photoshop of what should be beautiful, ugly, sprawling, lifelike. If a novelist actually thought a novel of theirs was perfect, I'd suggest they rip a seam a little, for the sake of the work itself.