Young Tom, eager to write!
I’ve been writing articles for various outlets for about 40 years now, yet I’m still seeking my first perfect game. Just like the baseball equivalent, firing a perfecto needs a lot of luck and team support, and even then, flawlessness is unlikely to happen. The odds are just too strong against it.
Writers, by their nature, are perfectionists. Unlike baseball, however, there is never a perfect game for writers. Something can almost always be improved in an article, blog post, or even e-mail. A better word choice. Improved organization. Smoother transitions. Tighter and stronger sentence and paragraph construction. Many writers are very good – but perfect? That’s a very high bar, and I don’t think I can attach “perfect” to anything I’ve written.
Two recent experiences drove me to this conclusion. The first was reading a blog post from a young writer recapping a minor league baseball game. He wanted to use the word “intact” but instead spelled it “in tact”. It is hardly the most egregious spelling error, but a mistake, nonetheless. When I see sloppiness from a young writer, I get annoyed and frustrated. Take the time to learn the craft, polish your vocabulary and for goodness sakes, proofread!
I also started reading a book by Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. The story is compelling, but I am more impressed by Hillenbrand’s masterful writing. She finds the perfect word, sentence, paragraph and chapter, time after time. I think there are a lot of good writers, but very few who I put into the great category. My writing Hall of Fame is extremely exclusive. Hillenbrand, also the author of Seabiscuit: An American Legend, is in there. I’d recommend to the young baseball writer to read Hillenbrand, to see what it means to hone his writing to its fullest potential.
For the most part of my career, I worked in the newspaper industry. Perfection was not something many writers sought, and craved. Deadlines were too tight and pressure too enormous to create pristine copy. The good thing with newspapers is that you get to swing the bat again the next day. If you make a mistake, you get a chance to atone for it 24 hours later. Very few jobs are like that.
The development of the internet has not been great for writing, either. Even on some of the most sacrosanct and reputable news websites, typos and misspellings are evident every damn day. It makes a perfectionist’s skin crawl.
Editing is a hard job, and I get annoyed with myself when I miss typos, in my work and that of others. But the quest for perfection drives me. I still think that at some point, I’ll deliver my own perfect game. Perhaps I already have, and I don’t know it. What I do know is that when I stop trying to be perfect, it’s probably time to find another line of work. I strongly doubt that will ever happen.