Quest for Perfection

in Advice

I’ve spent the last 30 minutes staring at this blinking vertical line in the editor. Why? Because I was waiting for the perfect opening paragraph to this article to show up in my head. And it never did. And it never will. Oh, I think this paragraph is pretty good. But it lacks a bit of punch, it lacks that perfect engaging joke, that hook that no one can resist.

And since I'm writing an article and not music, I can't just steal Pachelbel's Canon

And since I’m writing an article and not music, I can’t just steal Pachelbel’s Canon

But its good. Its not perfect, and I could probably revise it a few more dozen times, and it would be closer to perfect, but it would never really get there. It would always be slightly flawed. And that is OK!

Everything is flawed, and sometimes, we get so caught up in fixing every single little flaw that we never get finished. And really, no matter how good your game is, no one is going to care if it isn’t even playable.

We hear people say it a lot “I’m a perfectionist”, and yes, its always good to strive to do better, but when it becomes pathological rather than hard work it isn’t an asset, its a handicap. It causes slow work and stress. And if someone else points out a mistake you missed, it can lead to anger and self-loathing.

Perfectionism, in moderation, is good. But you have to be able to break the cycle. I remember one pixel artist in the RPG Maker Community, an amazingly good artist, and I watched him scrap and redo the same grass tile 4 times. It was good the first time. And yes, it was slightly better the second time. But at some point the amount of time he was putting in to that tile was taking away from him ever finishing the tile set as a whole.

And I have my own experience with perfectionism. When I first started working for Degica and writing the blog, I used to obsess over trying to write every article perfectly. I edited each one for a crazy amount of time. I tried to make sure every topic I wrote on was perfect and relevant to something going on.

Granted, back then, it was easier to find a topic I hadn't already discussed.

Granted, back then, it was easier to find a topic I hadn’t already discussed.

But then, I realized: I have to do 2-3 of these every week, on top of my other work. There aren’t 2-3 perfect topics every week. I don’t have the time to edit each one to perfection. I have to, sometimes, go with good enough.

And do you know what constantly, rigidly achieving good enough over the years has done: My good enough is better than my “perfect” used to be. This article, while I know its flawed, and I could edit it for hours and hours to make it better, is better than those articles that I wrote when I first started. Because I was building up experience. Experience on how to write on many different subjects efficiently and with my own voice.

Things I write have started to just flow. I still do some editing, mostly to catch some grammar and spelling mistakes, and catch the occasional sentence where I just used way too many words to convey a small amount of information (yes, this sentence is meta), but I no longer obsess.

That obsession is behind me, and the more I distance myself from it, the better the things I create become. Redoing the same article, the same map, the same tile, the same bit of dialogue, over and over again doesn’t build skill. It just builds frustration, and when you hit the point of diminishing returns, not even much improvement on the piece you are working on.

And you can do the same things with your games. Stop obsessing over perfect. Get things out there. Be good enough. Finish. Build your skill. Eventually, your good enough will be someone else’s amazing.

Do you or someone else you know struggle with perfectionism? Did you ever see it as a detriment? What are you going to do about it? Join us in the comments section below.

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