Monday, November 21, 2011

Some people can't stop tweaking

When I was freelancing for Rolling Stone in the early 1970s, I was always rewriting until the last possible minute. This was in the pre-fax, pre-email era, and I'd drive to the airport and pay to have my column air-freighted from NY to CA. There wasn't much profit left.

Words are almost toys for me, like a child's building blocks, Lincoln Logs, Lego or an Erector Set.

Rewriting sentences and changing page formatting -- especially now with a computer -- is fun. I love to play with words, to rearrange them and try alternatives.

The danger is that a perfectionist never finishes anything.

When I was working as an advertising copywriter, I was notorious for not "releasing" an ad until the last possible moment. Fortunately, someone older and wiser taught me a valuable lesson: sometimes "good enough" really is good enough, and I learned to let go.

Now, as the owner of a tiny publishing company, I have to be a businessman as well as an artist. I realize that no money will come in if I don't approve a proof and let a book start selling.

However, I seldom stop editing. I even re-do old blog entries (including this one).

The New Yorker magazine has an excellent article about Steve Jobs, which says that his real genius was tweaking -- not inventing. You can read it for free online.

I'm a tweaker, too, but being a tweaker can be dangerous because nothing is ever really finished. (When I was in college, I was still building bookshelves a week before I was due to move out of my apartment.)

Print On Demand makes it easy to keep tweaking. Maybe too easy.

With POD I can make improvements to my books whenever I want to. While this means that a person who buys version 2.13 gets a better book than the person who bought 1.28, at least I know that each version was "good enough" as of a particular moment.

Sadly, it also mans that yesterday I decided to delay a book by a week so I could change a comma to a period. I doubt that anyone else would have noticed the imperfection.

Fortunately, Steve Jobs was the supreme perfectionist, the ultimate tweaker; and my iPad is better because of his obsession.

(Illustration from The New Yorker)

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