Take the old quote:
Perfect is the enemy of good.
Voltaire might have been the one to say it in this form, but the idea of “good enough beats unattainable ideal” has been around much longer. In fact, it warrants its own Wikipedia entry, if you’re curious to trace its history.
However it’s expressed, it’s good advice for a writer. But is it perfect? (See what I did there?) I’ve often said, “remember, perfect is the enemy of good,” to people stuck in the trap of perfectionism, but over time I’ve come to question the effectiveness of simply saying the words.
If you’re working on a solo project with no genuine deadline, more can be done to improve it. And even more. There is always a better solution to even the smallest creative problem in any work, whether or not you can find it in a reasonable amount of time. That simple fact can be paralyzing. In fact, I’d argue that while writers might not actually get “blocked”—nothing is truly in the way of getting words down—they can definitely be paralyzed by perfectionism.
While I’m skeptical of the value of the adage—it’s never gotten me out of any ruts—I do find demonstrations of the good-enough philosophy motivating. They get me going when nothing else can. Seeing good-enough in action, it becomes just a little bit easier to inject a little pragmatism into your own work.
I’ve written before about my love of the competitive forging reality show Forged in Fire and this is a part of it. When a smith accidentally snaps his blade in half with thirty minutes left on the clock, it’s inspiring to see a feat that took over two hours the first time somehow repeat itself in a quarter of the time with comparable results. A few minutes of an episode of Forged in Fire is often the kick in the pants I need to push through and finish instead of finesse.
Another place I turn to for good-enough inspiration is the YouTube series Pitch Meeting. In it, writer/actor/comedian Ryan George portrays both a sociopathic studio executive and the manically productive screenwriter tasked with pitching him on his latest project. (He’s the writer behind all the big movies.) As the screenwriter explains what happens in the film, the exec can’t help but point out all the things that don’t make any sense, or that might annoy viewers, or that might be downright offensive. “Whoopsie!” the screenwriter cheerfully replies. “Whoopsie!” The exec repeats. And on they go to the next plot point. After all, they’ve got a movie to make.
For over two years, George-the-screenwriter has pitched George-the-exec on dozens, if not hundreds, of movies. Some recent episodes cover Joker and Gemini Man, both richly deserving of the Pitch Meeting treatment.
The beauty of the Pitch Meeting concept is that it forces you, the viewer, to grapple with the fact that a real writer and a real exec—at minimum—had to force their way through all the inconsistencies and logical fallacies inherent in a screenplay in order to get it made. It goes without saying that they solved many more than they ignored, but at a certain point, the originators had to say “whoopsie!” and leave it at that.
Eventually, other creators became complicit in all that is ludicrous or hackneyed about a film, but we all know that, past a certain point, there’s only so much you can do to steer a large collaborative project no matter what your role might be. (Even as the replacement director, Joss Whedon had no luck turning Justice League into The Avengers.) Right at the beginning, however, before all that momentum kicked in, one or more people still had to choose “good enough.” And, while some of the results are deserving of mockery, hey, the thing got made. As silly as some of the decisions behind The Empire Strikes Back might have been, I’m deeply grateful they made the movie. They got it done. We should all be so lucky achieving our own, inevitably imperfect visions.
p.s. This is also the crux behind the sharp SNL sketch about the director of Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi ad trivializing Black Lives Matter. Yes, the sketch reminds us, a group of people all discussed that idea, presumably without the benefit of any mind-altering substances, and then decided to go through with it, as hard as that is to believe when you see the finished product.
p.p.s. I’ll add that the Pepsi ad was not good enough. There’s a line here, people.