In Search of Perfection

Runners and writers share similar traits, many of which qualify as self-inflicted abuse. "Write until your fingers bleed" is analogous to "I lost another toenail." Personally, I count those as badges of merit.

One affliction that both have that I wish could be banished is the idea that we can achieve perfection. I'm reading Kris Rusch's The Pursuit of Perfection: And How It Harms Writers (among five or six other books I'm also reading concurrently.) I hit a part that reminded me of this last cross country season and a young lady who wants to be perfect.

She's a talented runner, outstanding student, and a nervous wreck at the start line. A lot of kids are, which I really didn't get until recently. I'm more of a "pre-worrier" in that I get all of the angst out of my system days before a race. Once the number gets pinned on, my focus shifts to the work at hand.

It finally dawned on me, slow that I am, that she was worrying about the results of the race, not the race itself.

This, by the way, is not a 'girl' thing - some of the guys fight through the same issue.

Writers go through the same process, worrying about their books or stories long after the work is done and sent off, or in many cases today, indie published. Kris recounts a tale of a blogger who stated that a writer should use the one-star reviews to help re-edit a published work.

Sounds insane to me, though Kris was kinder. I have received bad reviews - one publicly, a few privately. The public one (you can find it at Goodreads if you're so inclined) I did pay attention to - she mentioned typos in the finished product, among her other complaints. Those I went looking for, because production errors aren't acceptable. In 126 cases of you're and 133 of your, I couldn't find the ones she said were done incorrectly - neither could my editor.

But I didn't contemplate rewriting the entire novel to her satisfaction. Am I disappointed she didn't like it? Yes. I also know, from the feedback from others that loved the book, that the parts she didn't like were the most popular with others.

Runners fall into the same trap. We get so wrapped up in what others do - they had a killer workout, or a PR race - that we forget to take care of our own business. Worse, we forget that we can only control one thing - our effort.

If the weather is lousy, it's lousy. The course is hilly, well, everybody else faces the same hill. The race is loaded with Kenyans who will be finished before you reach the halfway point, c'est la vie. Their race is not my race.

In the young runner's case, I made a deal with her at the start of her last race - go out and run in front of her closet competitor. My young lady had worked hard in the summer, came in fit and ready, but kept following a Pullman girl into the chute. So I told her to run in front, and to count on her courage to fight to the end of the race. I also told her that I believed that she could do it - and, if it turned out I gave her bad race advice, she was welcome to run me over with a car when she got her license. But until the race was over, I wanted her best effort.

I got a smile about the car joke and then the race started. She ran like a dream, focused on the competition at hand instead of the finish, and for the first time all season, finished with a smile.

You can't create a work of art, whether a book or a race, if you worry about the final result more than the effort to get there. The energy and courage to put yourself to the test is the forge for the art, and the love and the passion you bring to it shapes it in the heat of the moment. Greatness happens in those moments.