Monday, 21 February 2011

Yehudi Menuhin v. Nigel Kennedy or Why Perfection Doesn't Matter

A few months ago I was listening to a radio programme about violinists. I'm not musical - Chopsticks on the piano is about it - but it was fascinating hearing various musicians talk with such passion about the soloists.

Nigel Kennedy, it was universally agreed, was a perfect violinist, literally note perfect. Yehudi Menuhin, on the other hand, made errors. 'But I'd rather have the Menuhin recordings,' one of the musicians piped up. The others agreed. They enjoyed Menuhin's passion, his heart-felt commitment to his music, and that over rode any considerations of perfection. Put simply, it was the mistakes that made Menuhin the violinist he was.

And it got me thinking: why do we writers tie ourselves up in knots about some nebulous ideas about perfection? We edit and edit and edit until our shoulders seize up and our hands ache. We don't send our work out because it's 'not quite there yet', even though we finished that draft a year ago. We tinker and fiddle and primp our words, searching for perfection.

It's not there! And even if it was, would we want it? Wouldn't we as readers rather choose the heart-felt, the committed, the passion for story telling over mere perfection? Go for it, let your words soar like Menuhin's playing and stuff the imperfections.


Stroppy Author said...

So true, Sarah... but if my book were of Menuhin standard I would be happy to send it out. It's just that they always seem to be at about grade 7 when the deadline comes along!

Jim Murdoch said...

It was reading The Plague by Camus that finally put this into perspective for me. Grand, the character who spends all his time working on a single sentence and ends up never writing anything bar that sentence. I used to obsess like that letting poems lie around for months, picking away at them (adding in and taking out commas) but once I realised just how much the reader contributes to a piece of writing I started to worry a little less about getting my part perfect because I’ve yet to meet a reader who gets his part perfect. So, does it matter if I say, “Wait a moment,” “Hang on a sec,” or “Give me a minute”? Not really. None of them are accurate anyway. But no one is going to say, “I require an indeterminate length of time,” are they?

Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah,

An interesting post, as usual.

Striving for perfection is another writer's tactic for putting off submitting – I certainly do it! If you're still 'working' on your book, you're not receiving a rejection. I shall adopt the Menuhin approach forthwith.



badas2010 said...

It's uncanny how often you post on a subject I'm just thinking about.
I've been thinking about the difference between experts and readers.
A few years ago I asked a friend to read something I'd written and she said she liked it very much. From time to time I go back to that story and edit and edit and edit, so I recently asked her to read it again after all the improvements. It was considerably changed from that first draft, but her response was, "Sorry darling, I've already read this, don't you remember?"
She couldn't see any difference, which was mortifying.
Also I've quite literally edited the life out of another one. I asked my wife to read a few pages of the original sloppy version and compare it with the same section polished to within an inch of it's life. You can see what's coming, can't you - she preferred the first one.
Hey ho.

Sarah Duncan said...

But Grade 7 might be just the thing, the imperfect book that works better than concert perfection.

Jim, I can vaguely remember reading The Plague as a teenager and not understanding a word but feeling incredibly chic and intellectual. I wonder how I'd feel now - probably very sympathetic to the one-sentence wonder.

Lizzie - how are things? Hope you'll get that novel whizzing out, I know it's hard but while you won't get a rejection, nor will you get an acceptance.

Ouch. There's nothing worse than slaving away, and everyone preferring the first version. It can be hard to like our loved ones sometimes...

rodgriff said...

Nigel Kennedy is a class act, and he has a sees of humor. I remember hearing him playing with CBSO on a night when Aston Villa were going to be on Match of the day. Those of us in the first few rows definitely heard him say 'push it along mate' to the conductor. The concert finished in time for the program me and Kennedy played the match of the day theme for his third and last encore. He may be too perfect, but he is an entertainer as well.

Elsie said...

You have it right, rodgriff........Nigel Kennedy may or may not be note perfect, but the concert experiences he offers go way beyond what even Menuhin provided. Nigel makes music live in every sense of the have to be there to know what I mean. For me, the same goes for authors....if the writing is alive, I don't care whether it's "perfect" or not !

Sarah Duncan said...

Rodgriff and Elsie, no need to defend NK, I was just pointing out that perfection isn't the only thing. Which I think you both agree with.