Richard J. Anderson, in his essay, “On Doing Less, Better”:
How do I become better? The perfect may be the enemy of the good, as Voltaire claims, but how can one reach perfect without at least churning out a lot of good, mediocre, or downright awful things?
In my response to one of Richard’s previous essays, I stated that perfection is unattainable, which I still believe. Even if it is attainable, I think it’s such a remote possibility that the pursuit of it would only lead to discouragement. Or insanity.
The pursuit of getting better is much more realistic and accessible. Getting better at what you do is more sensible than trying to be perfect at it.
I want to be a better writer.
What does that mean? Writing better sentences? Having better ideas? Getting better recognition? I think yes to all three.
Whatever you want to get better at — writing, gymnastics, architecture, being a person, — knowing what constitutes that version of yourself is important.
But once the “what” is established, the question becomes, “How do I get there?”
I want to be taken seriously as a writer, and I want this website to be seen as professional. Now, maybe that’s because the site is young, and I feel like I have something to prove, which is probably true. Can I write something besides an academic essay and make it worthwhile? I don’t want to be another twenty-something with a Blogger account writing about my bad day.
I love writing this website, and I feel a great deal of pride for what gets posted here. I don’t know if it’s any good, but I’m proud of it. Proud enough to put my name at the top.
I want to make it better, and I want to write more, but as Richard hints at in his essay, it’s hard finding time for your passions in a world full of obligations. I’m trying to find a job, and a place to live, and time to exercise, and (don’t tell anyone) I have a thesis to write on Middle English lyric poetry. All while working and hopefully getting a good night’s sleep. Finding the time to write is a challenge in itself, and making actual writing come out is an even greater struggle.
But it’s the only way to get better.
How am I going to become a better writer if I don’t write? Thinking and daydreaming is nice, but it’s not the answer. No matter how many karate books you read, you won’t be a black belt until you put on a gi and get in the dojo. And even then, you’ve only just set foot on a path to a goal far off on the horizon.
But the thing is, every step forward brings you closer to that horizon. To be a better writer, I have to write. Every day. On some days, only crap will come out, and in the beginning, the crappy days will probably come one after another. Eventually, though, they’ll grow fewer and farther between. Or maybe they won’t, but the odds are much better than if I don’t write at all.
Perfection has a sense of finality to it. It’s an end result. Once you become a perfect writer, what’s the point in continuing to write? But the road to getting better is endless. You can always get better.
What good is being done with something if you can’t look at it and say that, “Yes, that was worth the effort. That was me doing my best. Now, let me try to do even better.”
Right. That’s why I love golf. You’re never a perfect golfer; it’s something you can work on your whole life, if you wish. You don’t have to stop at a certain age, or when you graduate from school. The same goes for writing. You’re never done with getting better. That’s not depressing; it’s inspiring. If I write every day for 365 days, how much better will I be in a year? In five years? In ten?
What matters is doing the thing that inspires me, that makes me happy, that leaves me with a sense of pride, and that’s writing good stuff.
Writing this site inspires me, and it makes me happy and proud. I don’t know if it’s any good, but at the very least, I feel like I’m getting better. My chances of becoming a better writer are much greater now than if I was lying on the couch thinking about all the great essays I’ll write someday. As long as I don’t give up, I won’t be any worse of a writer. The more I write, the greater the chance something pretty good might come out. I like my odds.