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B2MeM Prompt and Path: Purple Path; Prompt--ďAnd now that you donít have to be perfect, you can be good.Ē John Steinbeck
The Perils of Perfectionism
The first time I encountered the phrase "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good," it was almost twenty years ago on the Society for Creative Anachronism's usenet forum, the Rialto, and was a favorite saying of a Peer, Sir Cariadoc. I have later seen or heard it in different forms from various sources, from Steinbeck (above) to Shakespeare. I have always found it a very profound and true aphorism, worthy of remembering in many areas of life.
As I understand the saying, many people will delay, postpone, or even refuse to attempt, an undertaking until they have everything they need to get it "perfect". Instead of just doing their best, even though it may not come out as well as the person attempting it would hope, they simply avoid trying.
Sometimes this is simply fear of criticism, but other times, it's the idea that if it isn't perfect, it isn't worth trying. There is another saying, "If you can't do it right, then don't do it." I find that idea confusing and counterproductive. How can you learn to do anything if you don't practice?
What does this mean in the context of Tolkien fandom? Well, what is it you want to do within the fandom?
Do you want to write fanfiction, but fear that your first tries will be laughable (and not in a fun way) or mocked for their flaws? The truth is, that's quite as likely as unlikely. There are a lot of mean people out there with too much time on their hands, whose main fun in life is trolling and scaring newcomers. But there are also a lot of kind and helpful people who will enjoy your efforts and encourage you to become better, who will like your ideas and welcome fresh blood into the fandom. Write your story, and do your best to make sure that it is at least correctly spelled and punctuated. If someone spots canon flaws or a character being "OOC" or "out of character", listen to them and use their advice to improve your next story, and your next and the next after that. Strive for future perfection, but do not let not achieving it to discourage you. Aim higher than your reach, and you will get better, if not perfect.
Do you want to do fan art? I am a very strong believer that everyone has the seeds of an artist within him or her. Yes, some people are talented in certain areas, and may pick up an artistic technique more quickly than others, but they still have to learn the techniques. Can you read and follow directions? Books and tutorials on YouTube or classes can give you the techniques you need to create just about anything you want. The only drawback is not being perfect on your first try, or even your tenth--but with practice you will come up with a piece of art that will be perfectly acceptable to most of your fellow fans. And the fun thing about learning techniques is that to those who have learned, they become simple, while to those who have yet to learn, they appear marvelous!
The same thing goes if you would like to try something technical. Do you want to build a website? Or start your own archive? There are those who will help you achieve your dreams, and there are ways to learn how to do such things yourself.
Perfection is always beyond us, but it is also always worth striving for, and worth sharing the results of that striving. Tolkien himself suffered through the wish for perfection and the desire for time to achieve it and the knowledge that it was always beyond his reach: he described his dilemma in his beautiful allegory, Leaf by Niggle. Niggle (and Tolkien) finally realized that the act of creating is worth doing whether it was ever perfected or not--but it could only achieve greatness by sharing with others.
The Tolkien fandom is an old and established one. It will never go away completely, though it may ebb and flow. But for it to keep healthy and expand, it constantly needs new people, new fans, bringing new enthusiasm and new ideas into it. And it needs for those who are not new to welcome the newcomers and to try new things themselves. Don't wait for perfection to share your good ideas and good projects!
It is by practice that good becomes better. It is by sharing that better becomes real.
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