You know, I thought about publishing a post about a game with Fark tags and headlines, but I simply couldn’t bring myself to post it. Why? Because of something I think about too often, as I’m sure has anyone who’s ever considered their blog to be more than simply a sounding board. I’m talking about the big Q:
I started examining that aspect of my work after a few recent events: a couple of recent posts in blogs and forums, and the cancellation of an appointment.
First, there was a post by my favorite mommy blogger, Melissa, who questioned whether she should keep blogging past this year (and the ensuing followup). There she said something most of us don’t really have the guts to say, to ourselves or out loud, though anyone who’s blogged consistently for more than a few months has come across:
I’m running out of things to say that I think really matter
As a blogger, that’s one of the most important things to keep in mind. What happens when you no longer believe that what you say really matters? (If you want to see where I stand on that, read the first post, then read my overtly verbose comment in that post.)
The second thing that got me thinking was a question asked by Scrivs in the 9Rules Members forum:
This is something that I think about at times and the question basically is would you take yourself out of 9rules because you know that your content is slipping? How many of you know that your content isn’t what it used to be, but convince yourselves that you will pick it back up eventually?
I suppose even Camelot has its errant knights.
Along with that question came this link which asks about original blogging, and why it’s so difficult. Fact is, if you’ve never run a blog you don’t know how challenging it can be to keep content coming on a steady basis. If you have or do run a blog, then I’m sure you can appreciate where I’m coming from. And through all this comes the question of quality.
Speaking of which, recently 9Rules celebrated the conclusion to Submission Round 6, which netted some excellent, phenomenal blogs like Novelr, Dumb Little Man, and Newly Ancient. I’ll be honest, the quality of these entrants made me wonder whether I should re-apply for my membership, in order to ensure that my quality really is to the level it should be. Unfortunately, this type of judgment isn’t one I can always makes subjectively. I am, after all, human, with and ego, with insecurities, with hopes, fears, dreams and doubts. So why didn’t I? Because I still believe I’m good enough. But to alleviate any fears, I started working on improving my quality, not just here, but in all areas of my life.
How much is too much?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a bit of a perfectionist. Mind you, not everything has to be perfect, but I’m always wondering about what I bring to the table in terms of quality. Not just in blogging (though it is supremely important to me), but in all I do. Whenever I write a script, I wonder about it. Whenever I’m working on a Visio diagram, it’s the foremost thing on my mind. Whenever I write a short story, or set up a computer system or do anything which will eventually affect anyone else — especially something to which my name will be attached — I think about quality.
But with all this wondering about whether or not something is of quality, I’m often left wondering “how much is too much?”
The simple answer, I believe, would go something like this: Use the law of diminishing returns as your guide. If you’re working harder and harder to attain increasingly smaller gains, then maybe you should call it quits. But then this raises another question: even if you’re getting diminishing returns, will that extra bit of quality make the difference? Conventional wisdom says “no”: if your work can’t stand without it then there’s a problem with the rest of the work, not with that bit. Unconventionally, one could argue that the extra bit of quality is what makes the difference between great and memorable, between that which is held in high esteem and that by which all others are judged. I suppose that’s why Hemingway was so picky about his sentences. (If you go according to popular folklore, Hemingway would spend days ensuring that a line was just right.)
Between two masters
For the past week, I’ve been working on a project for work, one on which a major contract depends. Due to its importance, I’ve treated everything for this is with utmost import, focusing on both the speed (due to an approaching headline) and, more importantly, the quality with which it is accomplished, to the point where it’s less important for me to go home on time than it is to get things done just right.
The funny thing about quality is that if you’re working hard on something, something else usually has to suffer. Because of this project, during the week I had to cancel an appointment. I hated doing it because it was so very last minute. I despise when people cancel on me last minute, and I despise even more when I have to do it to others, since what suffers there is often the quality of my word. But I couldn’t help thinking — after the fact, unfortunately — that I could have gotten away with doing a little less in the way of quality for the project in order to keep my appointment. On one hand, I had a project which needed to be finished. On the other, I had an appointment to keep. Had I hurried the project, I could have kept my appointment. The work would have been good, mind you. Not great, but good. Instead, I decided to go for the gold, so I sat there, reviewing what I had written and touching up the illustrations which had been made, in order to ensure that whatever work I turned in, whatever was associated with me, would also be associated with excellence. The price of this was, of course, a tarnish to someone’s idea of my accountability. Was it worth it?
In feudal Japan, if a samurai had two masters, and he received conflicting orders from each, he would instead choose death, so that he would not disgrace either, nor disgrace his name or family. I didn’t have two masters, but I can’t say I didn’t feel the convergence of two conflicting orders forcing me to sacrifice a part of myself. Had I a sword I wouldn’t have used it for seppuku or anything, but maybe I would have poked myself with it.
The next day, I returned to find a complement from the project leader on the work I’d done the day before, specifically referencing something I could only have accomplished by staying late. While the complement was good and all, I can’t help wondering whether it really made a difference, and whether the price paid for that was too high.
A search, a hindrance
Often times, when I don’t post for a while, it’s not because I’m not writing. It’s because I’m writing and I’m completely dissatisfied with the product. I write stories, short ideas, little funny quips… none of which satisfy. At those points I can’t help but wonder whether I’m simply writing a lot of crap or whether I’m being too hard on myself. (You know, like when you’re at a forum and want to reply in a thread, but don’t feel you have anything interesting to say, so you write a reply out anyway and then decide not to press “Submit” because you don’t think it’s any good. Wait, does that happen to anyone else?) I’ve seen that happen lately. A lot. And it’s getting annoying. But what can I do?
When does the search for quality become a hindrance? When it brings you to a grinding halt? Could be. Then again, maybe “searching for quality” is an excuse to be lazy.
As for that Fark post, maybe I’ll just post it in a forum somewhere, and if it isn’t any good, then it isn’t.