The Eighty Percent Solution

So, good news: I’m not dead. Though for reasons unknown to me, my husband is convinced he is and is just dreaming this. No, I don’t know why and I’m not asking. What is a minor psychosis from my snuggle bunny?

So, cool story bro. The house was supposed to be ready for sale in early September. Only I’m a perfectionist. Look, stop laughing. I’d forgotten, okay? I’d forgotten because years — YEARS — ago I gave up on holding on until the novel was PERFECT. And as we all know, writing is the only real thing in the world. (RIGHT?) So in my head I was cured. (Cured, I tell you!)

So as one big thing was fixed, I keep seeing smaller and smaller things that jarred more and more.

I have this problem with other non-novel things. For those who don’t know, my main amusement, when I’m not er … rebuilding houses or setting the political webs on fire, is to do fillet crochet. Miles and miles and miles of it. Some intricate designs, some not, depending on the mood.

It’s my one feminine grace, and it used to be my cushion against a society that expected every woman between eight and thirty to work on her trousseau or make embellishments for the house. Of course, since I have no use for pillows, dollies or (I swear I’m not making this up. Yes in my generation!) the antimacassars other girls made, and I was never silly enough to adorn towels or kitchen towels (!) with crochet, and bedspreads SHOULD be the non-fussy kind you can flop onto with a favorite book, I mostly made curtains. Only as a kid I never finished them, just like I never finished any story longer than 40k words. The accummulation of errors would get on my nerves, and I’d abandon it.

I grew out of that, like I grew out of THE NOVEL MUST BE PERFECT. Well, kind of. So, not counting the ones tragically lost in the move from the Manitou house, I have a half dozen curtains floating around.

Now I usually make these while on long trips (as a passenger! Geesh) or in the evening, while burning spare cycles in front of whatever Dan is watching. So I often make mistakes. I’ve been known to unravel half a curtain because there’s an error way up.

Now, really, I have to break myself of this because this house needs…. 12? crochet curtains, just for privacy without blocking the light or the view issues.

The thing is, even when the error was fairly major in a curtain I made for the bathroom at the other house, NO ONE NOTICED. It glared at me, but no one noticed.

I’m sort of hoping it is the same with the things I didn’t perfect on the house, that they’re only glaring to ME.

And I need to remember that about novels, too, so I can get the things out of my head and onto the page, because I suspect that the perfectionist has crawled back into my head and is making mischief.

The thing is the last ten percent of any task takes 50% of the labor, but most people don’t notice if it’s not done. Heck, most people don’t notice anything above 80%.

How do I know this?

Because I don’t, years (or weeks, if things were done in a fugue) later. Take the cat’s bathroom (don’t ask. No. I told you not to ask.) in the new place. We ripped out the gross linoleum, but we’re not putting in the permanent stuff till we can change the appliances, which will be after the other house sells.

So in the last day I was here, on my previous stay over a day, I installed cheap peel and stick vinyl tiles (btw, those have come a long way baby.) That was a week and a half ago, but it feels like years. Anyway, I know I not only did a ton of things wrong (tired, distracted) but some glaringly wrong. When I left I was convinced it was a screaming mess. Now? Well, I can find the two places I cut it short of the tub, but that’s about it. And can be covered by a quarter round.

So, if you think you’re writing — or living — for the ages and generations yet unborn will treat your work like they do Willy Wagstaff’s, (Egg on his face. I mean he used “they” for singular, once, in his oeuvre, probably for rhythm, and now idiots are using it to justify raping the English language.), carry on.

If not, ask yourself why you’re giving yourself the trouble, and what your objective is.

Sure, fix the typos (Hey, I almost referred to my Otter House, which I assure you I don’t have.) and make sure the research is right. But after that? No one cares. And you won’t either.

Shoot the perfectionist in your head (metaphorically) and set yourself free. And productive.

24 thoughts on “The Eighty Percent Solution

  1. As a knitter who ripped back the lace bodice of a baby dress at least 4 times, I understand this.

  2. Terrance Dicks, former script-editor of Doctor Who, said it was possible to make a story worse through excessive rewrites. I guess you just have to learn when you’ve done enough.

    1. Yep. Rewriting too often takes a bas relief and sands it flat. I’ve seen that over and over, especially on writers forums where the culture is that all critiques are valid, and some newbie starts trying to please everyone and kills whatever made their work special.

      There’s an essay by Rod Miller (published on the late Cowboy Poetry site) that I can’t get the Wayback Machine to spit up, but here’s the important part:

      Fine Lines and Wrinkles — Rod Miller

      It doesn’t take much TV time to realize that the words “fine lines and wrinkles” strike fear in the hearts of folks with an unhealthy obsession with their faces. But I won’t be talking about faces or lotions and potions, creams and concoctions formulated to reduce or eliminate the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

      Far from it.

      I am, in fact, in favor of fine lines and wrinkles. I urge, encourage, advocate, and campaign for their appearance in cowboy poetry whenever and wherever possible. For those two characteristics—fine lines and wrinkles—are the very qualities that make poetry poetry, that set it apart from and above mere verse, rhymes, and doggerel.

      By “fine lines,” I mean a collection of words and sounds strung together in an arrangement that is as near perfect as humankind is capable of making. Lines that say something so well, that sound so good, it is simply unthinkable to change a single syllable, never mind a word.

      By “wrinkles,” I mean unexpected turns of phrase, unusual usages, warped verbiage, twisted expressions that surprise and delight and make the best poems memorable, even unforgettable.

      Mark Twain summed it up well with his famous and familiar phrase: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

      To further the lightning analogy (and mix our metaphors), bolts of brilliance do strike twice—and more—in the same place. That is to say, most fine lines and wrinkles demonstrate more than one poetic quality, and that’s what puts them over the top, pushes them into the rarified air where brilliance breathes. Take your pick: word choice, word order, sounds, relationships among sounds, cadence, rhythm, contribution to meter in formal poems, inventive yet apt rhymes, unexpected turns of phrase, surprising metaphors, and on and on. Look closely and carefully at any highly regarded cowboy poem and you’ll find a number of these lightning bolts electrifying the words and sparking the syntax.

      Etching, in other words, fine lines and wrinkles into the poem.

    2. Excessive rewriting allows people into the process that are going to add the wrong things into the soup. See the difference between the early seasons of New-Who and the current run.

  3. I’ve had the issue of “I know that I need to clean stuff up, but I don’t know when to stop and let it out into the wild,” and I suspect that I always will. I know my writing is rough, far too often, and I have to go through and fix things. And fix things. And fix things. And…I can stop when building something like a house or a shed or something that had clear instructions. Writing? Hard to find that “stop” point.

    On a good news front, it appears that upping my hypertension medication might be helping with my anxiety as I’m noticing that I’m having stress/tension release pain in my arms and legs. The lovely “return of circulation” pins and needles feeling that I have when I’m hitting the bio-feedback hard and can keep riding the “calm everything down” wave for more than a few minutes at a time. Yay for the release of long-term anxiety!

    For all of us, just remember the motto of the International Plumber’s Union-Hoc quoque transibit. And, I need to look into a folding screen that can handle a zoomy puppy.

  4. Same thing in the manufacturing world, and you need the interplay:
    – Engineers want to hold onto their baby (machine) until it’s perfect
    – Sales want to ship it now
    and best approach is to ship when it’s good enough. I’ll hold up a machine or new software release if it’s not good enough, but I always remember, we don’t get paid until it ships.

    1. I had to convince an integrated circuit designer that getting the layout done Well Enough was far better than blowing the schedule to get it “perfect”. Not sure he took it to heart, but he became a dentist after a few years. I pity his patients.

      “New-product projects are never finished. They are shipped.”

  5. “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” an idea that goes back to ancient Greece, at least. Or to Pharaoh and Hamurabbi and the legendary first Emperors of China – “Dang it, Bubbah-hotep, I need that tomb finished before I die. Not before the heat death of the universe!”

  6. I understand perfectly. I’m in the midst of sewing a gorgeous peacock shirt for Dear Son. The *%^#%$$ base of the V-neck collar didn’t come out right. The fix glares at me but no one else will ever see it unless I show it to them.

    Fillet-crochet your curtains. Telling visitors that you made a house full of lace curtains *all by yourself* will impress them tremendously and none of them will go looking for your errors. They won’t know enough about fillet-crochet to recognize them.

    1. Our church organist used to say that when she made a mistake, she’d repeat it, so it sounded like she did it on purpose.

      1. Years ago, our church organist most feared the Christmas season, because “if I play a wrong note in a Christmas carol, EVERYONE will know it!”.

  7. “Shoot the perfectionist in your head (metaphorically) and set yourself free.”

    I might need to literally shoot the perfectionist in my head.

      1. I should clarify. I’m not contemplating suicide I just wish the perfectionist could be removed like an appendix.

  8. Sweetie, the craftsman is always his own worst critic. You are by necessity far too close to your creation to hope to be impartial, certainly not in the moment. This is why you tolerate folks like me.
    Pretty much an open secret that I will on occasion beta read and edit for a few friends. Keeps me out of the bars and away from loose women while giving me a sense of accomplishment.
    Time and again some budding author will discover this and ask for my help. If they ask nicely I will generally find time to give their master work a scrub.
    I do my best to give an honest opinion which results in one of two things. Either we open up a dialog on things I think will improve the work, or that aspiring author drops off the face of the Earth and I never hear from them again.
    As I said to our friend Dave a few days ago when he compared writing to carpentry, he builds the bloody thing and I check to see how many nail heads are sticking up and need another smack with the hammer to drive them flush. Or with some works a combination of hammer and nail set.
    I did a post on editing a few years back, may need to resurrect that, update what’s changed, and post it again.

    1. I have an inarticulate code critic. (It only says NO or …maybe,,,) Listening to it turns out better than not. Eventually it (the code) becomes a story about a computation that /also/ satisfies the spec and the compiler, and I don’t get 3am phone calls.
      After 55 years of this, I’m still getting better at it. Sadly, since I was born in the USA and don’t have 5 years experience with ReleasedYesterday 2.0, I cannot compete with the H1B locusts.

    2. Speech recognition has made greedy lazy jackasses out of some very prolific indie producers. They reign upon us transfinite solecisms that ought to be banned by ordnance-“this side towards enemy”, rather then lowcal mini-tyrannies- but I’ll be discrete and not mention Chris Hechtl. There are, Shirley, many of us with an eye for ere rant homonyms who could and would provide -FREE!- proofreading service to keep this nails-on-a-chalkboard dreck out of everyone’s fays!

      1. To be fair, my fingers take dictation from my ears. I can’t do speech recognition. I have a mutable accent. But I do type leave for live if I’m rushing, because I hear them the same (You have to be trained in unique sounds of the language by 3 or you’ll never hear them right.)

  9. I know someone who died before releasing her novels.

    I know somebody else who paid me bucks to edit, got it back, and paid someone else bucks to edit again. And still hasn’t released the book, even though it is done and charming, and could have been out three years ago.

    I get sick of this crap, in a world where book release is not all that hard.

  10. Funny trick from my mother for writingfast, was! Close you eye ya type everything in your head and go back later to turn it into something usabel.

    Catch is the sprawling mistakes and autocorrects and tendon typos can get quite fantastic!

    Need to do it more often kyself. Going back and correcting thoughts breaks the flow, and can us shalt be done later

    And no, I don’t know where tendon came from WI ether. It just is…

    For the times I’ve got the scene or the dialog in my head, it works very well, though the first pass does come out looking like, well, that^.

    Actually works sometimes, even if I don’t have the scene in my head. Sometimes your just taking note spf what the characters are saying and doing and all you need to do is keep up with them before they run away from you. If I’m chasing punctuation while they’re having a blaring row, I’m going to be so far behind them I’ll never catch up.

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