Samuel Beutler, Switzerland/Canada
Eight years ago, while my passion for writing first began to grow, my friend Daniel recommended the award-winning books of John Steinbeck. Delving into “East of Eden” my passion was simultaneously reinforced and weakened. Reinforced, because Steinbeck’s work was otherworldly, capturing people unlike anything I’d read – yet weakened, because I doubted I could ever write with such clarity.
Yet when first released, the book received mixed reviews; one-dimensional characters, unbelievable drama, and over-poetic dialogue that frustrated many. Though falling short of greatness in some ways, it was ultimately a book written with excellence.
Some years later Steinbeck began rewriting the King Arthur legends with new perspectives and more human qualities, to be his magnum opus. He never finished it.
During those years working on “Arthur” he sought perfection. He travelled to England, studied medieval history, even forged his own axe, plagued with the same self-doubt I had when first reading his best work.
Ultimately only 1/10th of the original planned material was ever written. Published in 1976, eight years after his death, the book holds a few chapters he obsessed over, a few messy ones, and a final section of letters to both his editor and an Arthurian scholar, where he wrote of perfecting the beginning before writing the rest.
“East of Eden” reached greatness despite flaws. Could “Arthur” have been perfect? Perhaps. But Steinbeck never finished it, and who knows what could have been.
Perfectionism is the path of unfulfillment; unfinished drafts or paintings, broken promises, wounded relationships. Excellence leads to a flawed, sometimes messy life – but at least a finished one.
Don’t wait until everything is right before trying. In craftsmanship as well as life Christ calls us to excellence, never to perfectionism. Therefore strive for excellence, and who knows, you may create something great along the way.