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The Backstory:

I have a project due in the next few days and noticed about halfway through the editing, rewriting and revision process that my initial approach to the subject matter and my argument is flawed. Not unsound, mind you. Just not the strongest material that I'm capable of producing or the strongest argument that I'm capable of making.

It took me several weeks to compose and research this project and doing it the 'right' way would normally take weeks of research and rewriting. But the finished product could be [finger smooch] perfect.

The Problem:

I don't have several weeks to essentially start over on this project. I've only got a few days until the drop-deadline and this is not the only thing I need to work on in that time.

The Question:

Do I throw everything at this that I can in order to get the best possible result, knowing that I still might fail to finish on time and essentially have nothing instead of something? Or do I simply fix any glaring errors and tidy up what I've written knowing that I can meet deadline with ease, but have that nagging feeling that I'm capable of much better work?

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What's the project? My answer would be different depending on what the work is (academic paper? weekly publication? novel?) and what the fallout from "less than my best work" might be (poor grade, not much, no contract). – Lauren Ipsum May 21 '12 at 18:55
This question is difficult to answer without specifics, particularly knowing what's worked for you in the past. I think that only you or someone who knows your working habits well can answer this definitively. – Neil Fein May 21 '12 at 22:21
Technically, this is not a question about writing, it's more of a philosophical debate ;) In the end, you're the one who needs to make a decision. What can you live with? Can you live with turning in a flawed work? Can you live with failing to turn in the work on time? Which of these two scares/irritates/angers/damages/whatever you more? – Tannalein Jun 24 '13 at 21:35
I suggest: Finish this one. In conclusion notes write a general hint of "how this could be improved" - an abstract of your perfect version. "Unfortunately time constraints made following this avenue of research impossible...." – SF. Jun 24 '13 at 22:16
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Lovely. I use this to introduce my personal "bore people to death with omnipresent citations" day:

Never give up, never surrender.

Never let perfect be the enemy of the good.

To create something great, you need a good idea and just too little time to finish it.

Ha, I love that :)

So, what do these citations tell you? Well, nothing in particular, only that your assumption is totally flawed.

"Oh, if I had enough time, than this would be perfect ..." No. If you have enough time, you'll never finish your work. That's the definition of perfection. You are human, you err, you need unlimited time to be perfect.

So you have not enough time to do your work (surprise), you are afraid to mess it up (surprise), for some reason it looks like you cannot delay the deadline (surprise), so do what every professional would do: dig a hole, hop in, and whine.

Or do the best you can do within the time you have.

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I dunno, John; your answer is lacking a certain je ne sais merde. – Lauren Ipsum May 21 '12 at 21:31
@LaurenIpsum: Scheiße aber auch! :) – John Smithers May 22 '12 at 7:31

Nearly every piece of writing (especially those written under deadline!) can be made better in some way or another, often significantly so, given enough time. We are all "capable of much better work" when we have more time than we have! But we don't have more time than we have; if we did, we'd have had that amount of time instead! Therefore, assuming we haven't been slacking, whatever we have written when the deadline comes is, by definition, the best work we can do. If we could have done better, we would have.

And if you could have noticed the flaws in your initial approach sooner, you would changed the approach you were taking in time to make the work much stronger. But you could not.

Assuming your client/editor/professor/whoever has seen drafts of the piece and is satisfied with the direction you originally proposed, my suggestion would be to inform them that you have finished the piece, but that while you were finishing it you thought of another approach that might be superior to the one you originally proposed. Then the ball's in their court.

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This is an excellent answer. No one has time to do everything perfectly, so just do the best you can with the time available. – JSBձոգչ May 21 '12 at 23:03

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