Monday, March 16, 2015

Perfect Writing: is it attainable?

by Cat Woods

As a writer, finding that perfect word is almost as exhilarating as winning the lottery. Actually, in a way, it is winning the lottery--in a literary sense. You see, we writers take our words very seriously. We want to tell the perfect story with the perfect characters living the perfect plot that ends with the perfect resolution. We expect nothing but the perfect sentences flowing into paragraphs of perfection.

However, I don't believe that perfect writing is attainable. More importantly, I don't think it is desirable.

As a speech coach, I judge a lot of high school tournaments. I watch hundreds of talented kids recite amazing pieces week in and week out for three months straight. I admire the skill they have in memorization, characterization, blocking and inflection. They use facial expressions and body language to depict the emotions and elicit sighs of sadness or peals of laughter from their audiences. The better they connect to their characters and the better they help us connect to them, the better the speechies do.

Alas, however, I have seen technically perfect pieces executed in an over-rehearsed fashion that lacks genuine voice, effectively erasing all the hard work they've done.

This--this striving for perfection--is actually the problem with chasing it. We can, and often do, sacrifice quality, spontaneity and authenticity when we hash and rehash our work, kneading it, massaging it, substituting words and punctuation with a tenacity that is nearly obsessive.

In short, we risk losing genuine voice in the quest for perfection.

So, do you feel perfection is desirable or attainable in writing? If so, how do you pull it off? How do you keep your writing fresh despite the grueling hours of edits and revisions? Conversely, in what ways does the quest for perfection inhibit your storytelling? What do you do about it?

Curious minds want to know.

Cat Woods is a speech ninja five months out of the year. She helps junior high and varsity students hone their speaking skills--both on and off paper--a process that is eerily reminiscent of critiquing other writers. Feel free to critique her writing in Tales from the Bully Box, an anthology for middle grade writers from Elephant's Bookshelf Press. Or, check out her kid blogs at or


Sophie Perinot said...

Even if it were obtainable, I fear that--as in the production of many other commercial or artistic goods--getting there would be past the point of diminishing returns. And the truth is, as witnessed by books that get brilliant reviews spiked with 1-star ones as well, one persons "perfect writing" is another person's "yuck."

SC Author said...

"Have no fear of perfection. You'll never reach it." Salvador Dali

One of the biggest ideas that completely changed the way I do visual art! Now if I can only do that in writing.... Writing is so much scarier, though! A vis art piece takes much less time to complete than a book does. I don't want to spend years on a failed experiment, you know? I toss out vis art pieces all the time. It's liberating. Can't do the same for a whole book! Maybe if we worked in short story format for our 'experiments'...?

Cat Woods said...

SC Author, I like the short story experiment idea...however, as someone who has written short stories and novels, I almost find the short story harder to write! It's much easier to ramble than to convey thoughts in tight spaces sometimes. : )

Sophie, so true about one man's junk, another's treasure. If only we can hold onto that thought and not get paralyzed by our need to polish to perfection.