The Chimera of Perfection by Shan Jeniah Burton

There’s a myth that Amish quilters create an intentional imperfection in their quilts, because only God can create perfection. It’s known as the “humility block”. Although the myth turns out to have been created in 1948 (by a quilter who frequently erred, but wanted to keep moving on to other projects, perhaps?), there’s something to be said for simply accepting imperfection – in quilting, and in life…
And, yes, in our writing and blogging, too. Recently, fellow blogger Linda G. Hill shared this post.  She talks about her struggles with how much to edit her blog posts, which publicly represent her writing ability. While commenting on that post, I discovered the seeds of this one, and a focus to carry me through this round.

Here’s how I blog:

I revise each post at least twice in my word processor.

I use templates for all my regular features. Once I know permanent elements are OK, I don’t have to go over them.

I review at least once more while pulling together links, videos, and images, then preview and tweak when I think I’m done (I’m almost never as done as I think I am).

And I still miss things…typos, repeated words, incomplete sentences, clumsy phrasing, broken links…

So what do we do, when we goof up despite our best intentions to create perfection?

What do I do?

I pay due diligence, publish, and move on with my life.

If I catch something, and I’ve got the time and focus available, I’ll pop in and fix it – but I’m human, and humans err sometimes…

So, if I’m in the middle of Other Things, and the error isn’t egregious – I leave it there. Yup, I make it into my very own version of a humility block. I let the mistake stand there, a visual testament to the incontrovertible fact that I’m far from perfect, that I make mistakes, and that sometimes I just have to live with them and get on with my life.
This video has some gems about perfection and the prison it can be. If you’re pressed for time, go to 16:40, and listen from there.

I give a lot to my blogging – and more to my writing, and my family. I hope that anyone reading my blog will overlook a few mistakes, especially given the volume of posts I publish, and the content density of those posts. After all, I’ve never claimed to be an editor, and I named my blog Lovely Chaos, so I don’t think I’m promising perfection I can’t measure up to without taking from other important areas of my life.
Maybe someday, I’ll get the time and focus to go back and make nearly 2,000 posts perfect. But I doubt I will -or that I even want to. I blog, and write, to connect, communicate, and create. I can do that without being unfailingly brilliant, witty, and technically perfect. For my eventually-to-be-published books, I will be hiring an editor (rumor has it you can find great editing at an affordable price here).

For blogging, though…I do the best I can, and then move on. I do what’s reasonable, and doesn’t make me nuts. Then, I take a deep breath, and let it go out into the world, even if it’s got a missed stitch, or tangled threads….

I have this fantasy that the person who invented the ‘humility block’ myth did it so that they could pretend that their mistakes weren’t really mistakes – they could pass them off as intentional errors, and stroke their own egos.

I’d rather claim my mistakes, and learn from them as they go. I’m not interested in blogging or writing less to make time for more editing, and I’m even less interested in taking that time from my family or hometending. I’m a writer, and a wife, and a mother, and I have other obligations. I’m sure that even if yours don’t match mine, you do too. Very few of us life in a vacuum, after all, and, even if we did – what would we have to write about?

This round, my personal challenge is to allow my imperfections to simply be. Maybe it’s paradoxical, because this is also the year I intend to become faster and more thorough at revisions…but I’m maybe just naive or optimistic enough to believe that these two goals can co-exist. I think it’s possible to give ourselves to the revision process, the way I go over my blogposts, and then, when we know we’ve done the best we can, given our due diligence – to release our words. Maybe first to a critique group, beta readers, and/or an editor, but then, once those things have been done and another pass made, to the world…

By the end of the year, I will have self-published my first short story. I’ll know it’s not perfect, and that it never will be exactly what I’m imagining it could be. But I’ll still press ‘send’, and, in so doing, become an indie publisher, as imperfect at that as I am at being a human.

What can you do, if you release the chimera of perfection, and let your best be enough? Because, as Hawkeye Pierce once told Father Mulcahy on M*A*S*H, “Best is best.”

Let’s all do our best, and then let go!


Shan Jeniah Burton

7 thoughts on “The Chimera of Perfection by Shan Jeniah Burton

  1. Valuable thoughts, here. There are artists who intentionally insert an error into their work, though: The Sufis. (cf
    I’ve found in my work as both an editor and a writer that regardless of the number of sets of eyes reviewing a piece, someone will *always* find a mistake. I’ve learned to live with it as well–while still striving for the best final product I can manage.

  2. a Mash person great:) I firmly believe in there being nothing that is perfection, which is why I rarely give top marks to books, what is perfection to one is a disaster to another. Life is fantastic because it doesn’t run to a perceived ‘perfection’ think how dull life would be. Of course I might just believe this because I’m dyspraxic!! who knows:)

    1. My Accomplice and I have been watching M*A*S*H together since our dating days. It’s still brilliant. I’ve often said that a perfect life would be boring. I pour my soul into the words, and then I revise and polish until I’ve made them as bright and shiny as I can – and then I let them go.

      I think people who don’t need perfection are some of the most interesting folks I’ve ever met. =)

  3. That Amish quilting story was new to me — but resonated because I quilt as well as write and accept imperfections in both. I loved your take on a philosophy that comforts me — that sometimes the enemy of the good is the quest for perfection (roughly paraphrased from Voltaire who took the idea from an Italian proverb). Maybe we all do our best, given those commitments and constraints that make us human. Maybe we can learn to forgive ourselves and others for those gaps between the ideal and reality. Day by day, we set goals, we write, we edit, and we make time for those we love. Thank you for an inspirational post.

  4. I’m not sure I always do my best. I know there’s times when I know I could do better, but for whatever reason – I don’t.

    So I try to make my best better, and to get close to it more of the time. I’m imperfect, too, after all.

  5. I always try to make things as good as possible, but I’m always missing something. I finally had to tell myself “you’re typing with one hand! Get over it!” NJow I make mistakes and don’t let them bother me.

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