Is good enough good enough?

Do you know what that picture is, above this post? I know, it’s two lines – a straight red one, and a curvy blue one. Any mathematicians amongst you know what it’s called?


What the dickens is an asymptote? It’s defined as: a line that a curve approaches, as it heads towards infinity.

So in our image above, the red line is the asymptote.
All very well and good, but what’s this got to do with writing?

In our diagram, the asymptote, the red line, is PERFECTION. The blue line is our manuscript, starting off a LONG WAY off perfection (remember: Ernest Hemingway said “the first draft of anything is sh*t“). But then, as time goes on, we improve and improve, edit and polish, working towards a perfect manuscript.

Hang on a minute! That graph shows the manuscript never actually reaching the asymptote. Does that mean our manuscript can never be perfect?

Of course! Because perfection is unattainable. Vince Lombardi, famous USA football coach, once said:
Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.
That’s Vince Lombardi, on the left.

And, by a strange quirk of fate, yesterday was The Superbowl – a season-long challenge to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Weird, huh? When I thought of the subject for this blog post, I was unaware that Vince Lombardi had coined that phrase.

And so, back to writing.
When we’re writing our novel, we’re chasing perfection. We want to write that brilliant novel, the one everyone will be talking about for years and the one which will propel us to literary stardom.
But will it be perfect? And if not, how perfect does it need to be?

There’s no answer to that, of course. One person’s good enough is another person’s really, really bad.

The simple truth is: it needs to be good enough to satisfy us, as the author, and the prospective reader. I know I’ll never win a grand literary award like the Booker Prize. I know that, and I’m happy with it. I felt I had achieved something HUGE when a reader emailed me, and told me how much they enjoyed my writing. That was a few years ago now, and I’ve had other comments like that since. But you always remember your first, eh?

To try to leverage my writing into a form of income, I’ve been working on becoming a commercial fiction writer. One resource I love is the 20booksto50k group on Facebook. Their premise is that by writing and publishing 20 books, you can achieve an earnings potential of $50k per year. I’m a little way off that right now, but the group is tremendously supportive, and people share stories of their journeys, including sales graphs and tips on becoming more commercial. I love it.

But by checking on the books that have been successful, you quickly become aware that some of them are way to the left of that graph, and dangerously close to the Hemingway ‘First Draft’ end.

The group does help you set your own goals, though, and it gives you encouragement through the personal stories of its members. And people often say things like “I was like you a year / two years ago, but by working hard at my plan, I’ve been able to achieve financial independence and become a full-time author.” These aren’t the made-up stories of the get-rich-quick merchants (although they do sound a bit like it). They are genuine people, and you can check up on their books, check their ratings on Amazon, and verify their stories. AND you can see where they are on your own perfection graph.

So: Is good enough good enough?

It depends on you, the writer, and what you want and expect from your writing. But it most certainly can be.

I’ll finish with another Vince Lombardi quote.

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