As I am sure you have noticed, there has been a strong obsession with perfectionism in the arts: the publishing industry, the music industry, the art industry, etc. This series of posts will be mostly directed toward the publishing industry, as that is the only one I have 6+ years of experience in.
This obsession with perfection is encouraged in the industry. Authors, editors, readers, publicists, etc, often demand, and expect, perfection. This obsession takes on different forms or ideas: perhaps, for the author, a first draft must be flawless. Perhaps, for an editor, the book must adhere to a strict standard of structure, etc. And perhaps, for the reader, if a novel has a typo, then the entire story, and heart behind it, is lazy, and good for nothing.
It may sound as if I am being dramatic. I am not, unfortunately. These are instances I have encountered firsthand. These are minor instances, but it all builds a larger picture: the expectation of perfection in the arts. Perfection in the arts is another form of saying the declination of the arts.
And I refuse to follow the crowds that argue otherwise. I refuse to continue to watch as countless authors and readers overwhelm their souls in a mechanic industry determined to absolve what makes us, and our stories, unique and beautiful.
There is a difference between a story told to the best of a soul’s ability, vs. a story adjusted to fit the industry’s standards of perfectionism.
What do I mean?
There was a time when a piece of art was just this. A piece of art. It could tell a story. It could move a person to tears. It could make someone laugh. It could have typos, poor pacing, info dumping, a prologue, and all of these things that the “industry” warns against now — and yet, it was a story, and a reader could even consider it a great one.
The industry itself forgets that art is wholly subjective. To seek perfection, and to alienate the craft, the art of art itself, is detrimental, and truly, disgusting. Now, the industry is vast and changing. Trends come and go. Editorial guidelines shift and change. The market is a machine, and humanity has been encouraged to feed the machine.
But art is not a machine. The human soul is not a machine.
The human soul is not perfect. It is messy, and beautiful. So, any writer can be expected to be this way, as well. Any editor, any reader, any promoter, is also the same. We’re all human, after all.
And because we are human, our art will never be perfect — nor should we try to make it “perfect” by any (subjective) standards.
The Navajo intentionally made mistakes in their art and creations to remind themselves that only Creator is perfect, and thus, their art/creations must have a mistake. It was an exercise in humility… but I think it was more than that.
We are created beings. We were created to create.
And we are imperfect beings, created by a perfect God.
So, why do we demand our creations be perfect? Why do we adhere to false standards of perfectionism in a fallen world? I have noticed, in the industry, a true lack of joy in creation. Viral videos, memes, etc, are usually about how miserable the artist is, how difficult the process is, and how much pressure there is to make sales, be popular, etc, etc.
We have lost our humanity in this pursuit for perfection.
Now, I am not advocating for a writer to publish a work they are not proud of, or a work riddled with millions of grammar mistakes… I am an editor, and I hire editors for my books, so this article is not any sort of attempt to do away with the honing of our craft. It is a far cry from it.
I am encouraging you to own your art. Weep over it. Experience joy over it. Explore. Analyze. Breathe it in, breathe it out.
I am encouraging you to create, and to make art, and to put your soul out there… and when the industry tries to quieten your voice, do not let it. Do not let the machine take your blood.
I’ll try to paint a deeper picture.
Over the years, I have learned a great deal about this industry. I signed contracts with publishers, and ultimately, time and time again, I withdrew from the publishers because my vision did not align with theirs. I had a call with an agent, and could have signed with the agent, if I made my main characters white, instead of black. I had a press desperate for my novel, but they would only sign me if I removed the strong faith elements. I have worked with editors that berated my vision, my faith, my characters, and my style, before I found my current editor that understands my vision, my style, etc. I’ve had authors, and readers, send me hate mail: they even go so far as to praise me in public, and despise me in my private messages. Why do I say all of this?
Because, time and time again, I could have let the machine truly sucked me of life.
I could have surrendered my vision, my heart, my dream, my soul… For money, maybe, or stature, or a reputation, etc, etc.
As difficult as the past 6+ years have been, however, I have owned my art.
I have created imperfect stories. And, to the chagrin of the industry, I am happy with them.
And while many berate me, and condemn these stories, and myself, I continue on… Why?
Because I refuse to kill my soul to fit into the industry.
I am human, and I have made mistakes, and so have you, but we must embrace this reality, if we want to remain artists. Anything short of imperfection is not art.
I do not see the industry changing anytime soon. I do not think its chase for money, power, and perfection will end. But we, the artists, the creators, the humans, do not have to follow the industry, or allow any voice to change who we are and what we do.
Our stories, our unique, imperfect, messy, strange, etc, stories, have a purpose. And if we change them to fit the industry, we are surrendering our voice. We are feeding a machine, and bleeding our souls dry. It is not worth it to me. Is it worth it to you?
If it is not worth it to you… You are not alone. Tell your stories. Bow to no machine.
Angela R. Watts