Done Is Better Than Good
The only reason I was able to persist in completing my first novel was that I allowed it to be stupendously imperfect. I pushed myself to continue writing it, even though I strongly disapproved of what I was producing. That book was so far from perfect, it made me nuts. I remember pacing around in my room during the years that I worked on the novel, trying to gin up my courage to return to that lackluster manuscript every single day, despite its awfulness, reminding myself of this vow: “I never promised the universe that I would be a great writer, goddamn it! I just promised the universe that I would be a writer!”
At seventy-five pages in, I nearly stopped. It felt too terrible to continue, too deeply embarrassing. But I pushed through my own shame only because I decided that I refused to go to my grave with seventy-five pages of an unfinished manuscript sitting in my desk drawer. I did not want to be that person. The world is filled with too many unfinished manuscripts as it is, and I didn’t want to add another one to that bottomless pile. So no matter how much I thought my work stank, I had to persist.
I also kept remembering what my mother always used to say: “Done is better than good.”
I heard that simple adage of my mother’s again and again the entire time I was growing up. This was not because Carole Gilbert was a slacker. On the contrary, she was incredibly industrious and efficient—but more than anything else, she was pragmatic. There are only so many hours in a day, after all. There are only so many days in a year, only so many years in a life. You do what you can do, as competently as possible within a reasonable time frame, and then you let it go. When it came to everything from washing the dishes to wrapping Christmas presents, my mother’s thinking was much in line with General George Patton’s: “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”
Or, to paraphrase: A good-enough novel violently written now is better than a perfect novel meticulously written never.
I also think my mother understood this radical notion—that mere completion is a rather honorable achievement in its own right. What’s more, it’s a rare one. Because the truth of the matter is, most people don’t finish things! Look around you, the evidence is everywhere: People don’t finish. They begin ambitious projects with the best of intentions, but then they get stuck in a mire of insecurity and doubt and hairsplitting . . . and they stop.
So if you can just complete something—merely complete it!—you’re already miles ahead of the pack, right there.
You may want your work to be perfect, in other words; I just want mine to be finished.