Striving for Perfection While Learning to be Imperfect

SONY DSCLast week I was delighted to find the printed proof copy of my manuscript in the mail. When I cracked open the heavy duty cardboard packaging to reveal the book version, without the cover art, unfortunately, I was thrilled. What I didn’t expect was the anxious feeling that accompanied the excitement. This is it. This is the book. This is what I have been working for over the past three years.

As I flipped through the pages, pausing to look at the pictures, the headers, the fleurons, and the fonts I had selected, I was surprised at how different the finished product looked. I was so used to seeing my manuscript on a glaring computer screen, or printed out on 8.5 x 11, bundled securely with a blue elastic band I had pilfered from my bundles of mail. It’s really a book, I thought.

When I finally made time to sit with my mechanical pencil and package of coloured sticky notes to search like a detective for every typo, error in punctuation or word choice, I was filled with anxiety. If I miss the mistakes now they will be printed forever for everyone to see. It has to be perfect, I demanded of myself.

Despite the fact that I had so many readers provide suggestions, and even hired a professional copy and line editor to scour the manuscript for problems, errors still appeared in this version. The brain is an amazing thing. It is able to fill in the gaps and gloss over the faults. I am left frustrated that I can’t always see the mistakes in my own work, when I can so quickly see them in the work of others. Thank goodness for a fresh pair of eyes willing to proofread.

With the manuscript read and reread, revised and edited several times, my finger hovered over the send button. I prayed it was spotless, that every little lurking error was discovered and deleted, transformed into a flawless sentence that did not draw attention to itself. But I’ve come to realize that’s almost impossible. Perhaps I should learn to accept imperfection at the same time as I strive for perfection. I’ll always want my work to be its best, but I have to forgive myself if it isn’t perfect.

Luckily, before sending my manuscript I realized that once my changes were made, I would have yet another opportunity to review a printed proof. Phew! What a relief. Another chance to get it right. Perfect!