(The Non-existence of) Perfection in Politics and Writing

One of the constant criticisms of politicians, or anyone, really, who steps up to speak against a common social ill, like misogyny, is that they themselves are flawed. How dare you get on your high horse, Julia Gillard, about sexism when members of your own party, like Mark Latham and Kevin Rudd, have been sexist, when you and your party are trying stop paying many single parents their benefit, when you don’t support marriage equality?

Yes, it’s true, Julia Gillard is not perfect. She’s not even close. But if only the perfect may speak out and criticise the status quo then, well, we will be living in a very silent world.

Julia Gillard had to make many deals and many compromises to become PM. Many deals and compromises were made for her to be deposed. Many were made for Tony Abbott to become our current prime minister.

It’s the nature of democracy. Every leader of every country anywhere in the world has done so. Perfect ideological purity—no matter what your ideology—does not allow you to be a leader in democratic societies. But good news: you can still be a dictator! Phew, eh?

If I was the world dictator, er, um, I mean, in my perfect world there would be no sexism or racism or homophobia or classism or any of the other ugly isms. There would be religious tolerance which includes the right to not be religious. There would be no smoking and no chocolate or coffee. Because a massive EWWWW to all three of those. Or grape fruit. No gin either. Gin is gross. Or tonic water. Uggh, I hate that stuff. Formal shorts would be gone as well as bubble skirts and crocs and safari suits and yacht shoes and pastel anything.

Now I’m going to take a bit of a punt here and guess: that’s not your perfect world, is it? You love chocolate or coffee or both and you think I’m crazy. You wear pastel formal shorts every day and want to know what the hell is wrong with me.

My extremely crudely made point is that no one’s perfect world is the same as anyone else’s, let alone everyone else’s. Even people who have many common beliefs, such as Christians, disagree on many issues: whether women can be priests, whether the Bible is the literal word of God, whether homosexuality is an abomination etc etc. Even within the various different kinds of Christianity . . . Well, you get my point.

I’m a feminist but there are many feminists I disagree with profoundly. And many who would never call themselves feminist who I am in strong agreement with.

Beyond all that I believe perfection is not attainable. There is nothing in this world without flaw.

I think that’s a good thing.

Which is not to say we shouldn’t strive for perfection, that we should all just give up. “Eh, I may be a raging egomaniac who breaks everyone’s heart and steals everything that isn’t nailed down and has no friends but at least I don’t kick puppies.” Um, no. We should all be striving to be the best people we can and to produce the best work we can.

But, wow, can striving for perfection get in the way. I know people who have been working on the one book for years and years and years without ever allowing anyone to see it because they don’t think it’s perfect yet.

Newsflash: no book is ever perfect.

They could all be better.1 You’ve got to stop some time and let other people look at your work. And move on to write other not-perfect things.

This is especially true of novels. My favourite definition of a novel is that it is a long piece of prose that has something wrong with it.2 Every novel ever published fits that definition.

Keep on writing, everyone, especially you NaNoWriMoers, do not let perfection get in your way!

  1. I adore Jane Austen but she rushed her endings. All her books end way too fast. []
  2. Can’t remember who first said that. Feel free to do my research for me. []


  1. Ned on #

    Per this blog post, Randall Jarrell. Who I’d not heard of, but he was U.S. poet laureate between William Carlos Williams and Robert Frost, which is decent company.

  2. Justine on #

    Ned: Thanks for doing research for me.

    Good to know who it was that actually said “a novel is a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it.” Randall Jarrell. I have a dim memory of reading that introduction too.

Comments are closed.