The Persian Flaw

It’s happened to all of us . . . likely more than once.  You’ve finished a piece of writing.  It can be a novel, a poem, a short story, an essay, a blog post.  Anything.  The point is–you wrote it, and it’s done.

Or is it?

If you publish it, it’s already “out there,” of course.  You can’t “undo” the act of initial publication.  But you can delete a blog post, remove an indie book from Amazon, or, if you haven’t published the work in question, you can hold on to it and allow it to collect virtual dust hidden securely in your computer’s hard drive.  (Then again, if a publisher distributes your work, or a magazine prints it, you’re stuck.  It will remain in public view.)

 

But isn’t that the point?  What published author wants to retract their work?  After toiling so hard on your story, it would seem self-defeating to withhold it, or, once published, to remove it.  And yet, we’ve all been there, haven’t we?  We thought we were finished with the blasted thing, but now, upon rereading it, and re-rereading it, and re-re-rereading it, we discover mistakes we overlooked before, errors the size and scope of Everest we were blind to just days or weeks ago, whenever we declared the work “complete.”

 

“How can I have missed that?” we might say.  “I can’t believe I thought this was ready for prime time!  What was I thinking?”  The mistake in question may be a grammatical one; it may be a collection of typos.  Or, perhaps more serious, we might encounter issues with our characters or plot structure or overall wording and pace.  Whatever it is we find, and grimace about now, is something new, something we simply didn’t notice before.  Maybe a negative review caused us to look at the story in a new light.  Maybe the fact that hundreds, if not thousands, of others have since looked at it since publication has made us hyper-vigilant in our post-publication literary detective work.  What are all those readers seeing?

 

And so we read it over again, and again, and again, hoping for perfection.  Hoping we find no blemish, no miscue, expecting every sentence to be Shakespearian, every plot twist Dickensian, every line of dialogue a melody from a literary symphony.

 

It grates us, therefore, when we encounter imperfection.  What’s that on page 98?  Why did I begin chapter 8 there?  I should’ve done it this way instead.  Why did I let that scene drag out so long?  And on and on it can go.

If we let it.

**********************************************

Centuries ago, the Persians were renowned for their peerless craftsmanship when it came to making rugs.  Persian rugs would take years to complete, and the final product would tell an indelible tale.  Each rug was a work of art, one of a kind, perfect.  Well . . . not entirely.  The Persians had a practice whereby they would introduce a flaw into the rug.  It was subtle, and perhaps indecipherable to the untrained or the indifferent eye.  But it was there.

 

Why, though?  Why deliberately make a mistake, as it were, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential?  Isn’t it better to quest for the perfect rug, or the perfect work of art?

The Persians believed only the divine could attain perfection and that humans, no matter how valiantly we try or how stubbornly we toil, cannot achieve it.  By weaving a flaw into their rugs, they were visually and symbolically yielding to this truth.  To attempt to craft a “perfect” rug would be an act of arrogance and foolishness, destined to fail.

 

There are no perfect carpets.  There are no perfect novels.  There are no perfect people.

Everything, and everyone, comes with a Persian Flaw.

********************************************

One of the primary themes in both The Eye-Dancers and The Singularity Wheel is an acceptance of one’s idiosyncrasies and flaws.  Mitchell, Joe, Marc, and Ryan each have traits about themselves they dislike.  Even the “ghost girl,” Monica Tisdale, must face her shortcomings and learn to embrace herself for who she really is.

 

After all, what makes for a well-rounded and memorable literary character?  Is a great character perfect, always having the right answer, the best solution, the magic words for every situation that arises?  Perhaps, if you’re talking about Ward Cleaver or Cary Grant (and Grant was a “character” as much as any he played on-screen).  But “perfect” characters like this, while charming and enjoyable to watch when the mood strikes, come across as artificial, Hollywood constructs that represent ideals, not real life.

 

Why should our writing be different?  Why should we stress over stories already finished, already published?  Hemingway once said, “There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Frank Herbert said, “There is no real ending.  It’s just the place where you stop the story.”  (I’m sure he could have said the same about the start, as well!)

None of this means we shouldn’t strive to produce our best work.  By all means, edit your story as long as it takes for you to say, “That’s it.  That’s all I can do.  It’s the best I have.”

And then, as much as possible, accept that final determination.  “It’s the best I have,” not, “It’s the best I have until I get a bad review,” or, “It’s the best I have until I read it again next month and discover that error on page 18.”  Because the fact is, if you go in and fix that error on page 18, a month after that you might find another error on page 27 or 88 or 222.  It can turn into an endless loop of reading and rereading and editing and re-editing.

 

The Persians understood this.  We writers understand this when we create our flawed and human characters.  We understand it when we read other people’s work.  We can appreciate their work for its artistic merit and technique, despite whatever “mistakes” may be present.  We can see the beauty in it.  The truth in it.

Now, if we can only learn to view our own work through that same lens.

It doesn’t have to be perfect to be great.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

25 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. kimberlywenzler
    Aug 19, 2019 @ 15:00:11

    Love this. Great message. Thanks for the reminder. I’m guilty of this behavior!

    Reply

  2. ritaroberts
    Aug 19, 2019 @ 16:52:23

    I get the drift Many thanks

    Reply

  3. ghostmmnc
    Aug 19, 2019 @ 18:16:12

    I’ve heard of the Persian Flaw before, or a similar one of the American Indians leaving a flaw in the blankets they wove. Ever since then, I keep it in mind, that nothing is perfect. 🙂

    Reply

  4. magarisa
    Aug 19, 2019 @ 20:04:00

    We certainly tend to be our own worst critics. I knew about the Persian Flaw before, but never thought about it in relation to my own writing until now. An excellent, helpful post!

    Reply

  5. ParentingIsFunny
    Aug 19, 2019 @ 20:22:53

    Love Cary Grant.

    Reply

  6. joannerambling
    Aug 19, 2019 @ 23:17:42

    Interesting………
    Never heard of the Persian Flaw

    Reply

  7. richarddeescifi
    Aug 21, 2019 @ 07:54:17

    Exactly, well said.

    Reply

  8. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner
    Aug 22, 2019 @ 00:53:54

    The perfection of imperfection. Beautiful! Now I’ve got to go and check my rugs 🙂

    Reply

  9. Anna Waldherr
    Aug 25, 2019 @ 22:06:20

    A wonderful post. Thank you for the reminder that none of us is perfect. I wrestled w/ this precise issue in coming to terms w/ what I view as the limitations of “The Rose Garden: A Daughter’s Story”. I still do not feel that book is my best work. But it was the very best I could do at the time — particularly w/ such personal subject matter. And writing it taught me things about myself I would not have known otherwise.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Aug 27, 2019 @ 12:04:25

      Thanks so much! It’s the hardest thing, isn’t it? Allowing ourselves to just say, “That’s the best I could do.” It’s all too easy to see the “flaws.” I think, a lot of times, if we could view our own work as if someone else wrote it, we’d probably be impressed and say, “Wow. That’s good writing!”:)

      Reply

  10. Jilanne Hoffmann
    Aug 26, 2019 @ 00:26:06

    Some flaws add to a work. But the author has a hard time seeing them as anything but subtractions. I read an anthology piece at a reading this past spring, and I changed it a bit to read as I wanted it to read NOW. Very hard to overcome this feeling.

    Reply

  11. Karina Pinella
    Aug 27, 2019 @ 14:23:13

    I’ve been reading a lot about happiness and related themes. One of the things that I remember and agree with is you learn to say, I’ve done enough, or This is enough, or similar variation with the same meaning, which is at some point, you draw the line and call it a day, and you start another day. Don’t bother to look back. After all, it’s been out out there already. Someone’s seen it, noticed it, or whatever. Regardless of how many or few have noticed what you’ve put out there, the act of revelation has been done. To go back and tinker with a completed work, in essence, has become new work because the original has been changed. It’s like you can’t go back to the past and undo. Similarly, even correcting that typo or replacing a word, no matter how inconsequential, has changed the original. Therefore, I say if you treated it as completed and moved on, then continue moving on and start something new.

    Reply

  12. The Eye-Dancers
    Aug 27, 2019 @ 16:28:54

    That is good advice! It’s hard to follow sometimes.:) But it is absolutely the right thing to do.

    Reply

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