Is Donald Hall Insane?

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dali

Donald Hall said in a recent interview with The Writer magazine that most of his poems go through something like 100 drafts. He says none of his published poems have gone through less than 50… and that he revised one of his poems 400 times.

This may make artistic sense, but it hardly makes economic sense. (To be fair, neither does writing poetry.)

Let’s be generous and say that Hall is paid at the top of the scale and gets $50 for one of his poems. Let’s also assume that he’s fast… and each draft only takes him a half-hour to revise and rewrite.

With 100 drafts, that’s a minimum of 50 hours of labor to produce one poem paying $50. That comes out to a dollar an hour – or less than one-fifth of minimum wage.

Donald Hall apparently doesn’t care about money.

But I am betting you do. So, like many productive people who produce a product or service, you’re conflicted…

Like Donald Hall, you’d like nothing better than to work on your current project – whether creating a website or writing a sales letter – for weeks on end. On the other hand, the more time you spend, the lower your return on investment… and the longer it takes to finish the work.

I think I have the solution – a tool to guide you on how much time to put it… and when to stop and consider your work to be “finished.” It’s called the “Exponential Curve of Excellence,” and is shown in the graph below:

As the Exponential Curve of Excellence illustrates, the quality of the work you produce – the degree of perfection – increases with time and effort.

Everyone knows that.

However, quality does not improve with time spent in a linear fashion, but according to what mathematicians call an “exponential curve.”

As you can see, the earliest efforts produce the largest improvements in quality. This is true with writing, design, programming, art, musical performance, sports, and just about everything else.

As you get closer to perfection, the curve flattens out. You still get improvement with time and effort. But the amount of improvement attained per unit of effort diminishes with each additional hour or day invested.

The value of the Exponential Curve of Excellence is that it gives us a clear guideline for how much time and effort we should invest in a project… and when we should stop polishing and just put it out there.

Many people, because they are so pressed for time, do not put enough effort into their work. They stop at Point A on the Exponential Curve. And so the quality of their work – and the results it produces – is not as good as it should be. On the opposite end of the scale, perfectionists go to Point C and beyond.

The problem with perfection is twofold. First, if you are a perfectionist you will be unproductive. Second, the market usually is not willing to pay for perfection.

Excellence, yes. Perfection, no.

As a result, your economic rewards will not be commensurate with your efforts.

So how much work should you put in? And when should you stop?

When you get to Point A, where you would normally stop, push yourself to do one more draft. One more version. Work at it one more day or week, getting to Point B on the Exponential Curve of Excellence.

At Point B, you will still get significant improvement in quality in proportion to the extra effort. You will produce work significantly better than the competition. And you will be rewarded for your efforts by your boss, customers, or clients.

So improving quality with a reasonable effort isn’t rocket science. It’s really as simple as A-B-C.

[Ed. Note: Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter, the author of more than 70 books, and co-creator of ETR’s Direct Marketing Masters Edition program. For more information on Bob’s “Internet marketing retirement plan,” click here now.]