Commonly attributed to Voltaire, though it is said Voltaire took it from an old Italian proverb, this aphorism (n. A pithy observation that contains a general truth) sounds simple enough to comprehend. Only when it is put into practice does one realize its inherent difficulty.
All artists – painters, dancers, singers, thespians, craft gurus, woodworkers, and yes, writers – strive for perfection, strive to become better and to achieve more. When we see mistakes in others’ work, we assure ourselves, “Oh, I would never let that happen” or ask, “How could they have missed that?” In manuscripts of all kinds, errors are unavoidable. Even those books at the top of the New York Times Best-Sellers List are published with minor errors and typos.
Perhaps a pronoun was supposed to read “she” but passed copyeditors and proofreaders as “he,” with its S dropped.
Maybe a gender-neutral machine or AI was mistakenly made a “him” instead of an “it.” Or suppose someone – the author or a copyeditor – had a brain fart and ended up typing “Hitch-pitch scream” instead “high-pitch scream.” Mistakes happen.
No matter how many times you or your editors review your manuscript, errors will continue to subsist. Humans are imperfect creatures, after all. They grow weary, they lose focus, they become distracted. An author could have ten different people review their manuscript and still publish with a handful of errors scattered throughout.
But I’ll just keep rereading my manuscript, you think. I’ll just keep reworking it until there’s absolutely no mistakes.
I often remind my authors of the above aphorism. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Don’t let your obsession to have a flawless manuscript keep you from learning from the experience and pressing on. Don’t keep spending hours combing through your work, searching for typos when that time would be better spent, say, marketing your book or researching your next topic. Yes, of course – do your best to create a book with as few errors as possible. But if that process requires you to continuously review your work over and over, stop.
Don’t Let Perfect Be the Enemy of Good.