Don’t give up, but never willingly finish…

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss an article written by John Kaag.

As a professional writer, writing coach and mother of three children, whose work I have often edited, I found John Kaag’s recent New York Times article, The Perfect Essay, to be both insightful and thoroughly charming.

Anyone who finds a good editor is already unspeakably lucky. May I immodestly add that to have that person be your mother would be like hitting the jackpot?

None of my children wishes to write (I have an aspiring physiotherapist, opera singer and social worker in my brood). But if they did, I could only hope I would be able to support them as Kaag’s mother supported him. He writes:

 Somewhere along the way I set aside my hopes of writing that flawless essay. But perhaps I missed something important in my mother’s lessons about creativity and perfection. Perhaps the point of writing the flawless essay was not to give up, but to never willingly finish. Whitman repeatedly reworked “Song of Myself” between 1855 and 1891. Repeatedly.

We do our absolute best with a piece of writing, and come as close as we can to the ideal. And, for the time being, we settle. In critique, however, we are forced to depart, to give up the perfection we thought we had achieved for the chance of being even a little bit better. This is the lesson I took from my mother: If perfection were possible, it wouldn’t be motivating.

Lucky John Kaag, to have a mother like that.

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