A friend accosted me first thing in the morning…
“I’m stuck. I wrote 100 versions of my headline and I hate them all. I hate my copy. I’ve been working on this for four months. I don’t know what to do.”
My friend was freaking out. This wasn’t a “I just need to get this out with someone who understands” thing. This was a pure panic moment for him.
(And thank goodness that I had some coffee first so I could intelligently help him.) :)
We’ve all been there. For instance, how many times have you spent hours revising an important email? Or held off on launching your site because the design wasn’t quite “there?” Heck, you should have seen me when I wrote my first book. My friend has to gently take my (previously unseen) final draft out of my clutching hand and say, “Heather, if you don’t let me have it, I can’t help you.”
I recently went through this myself. During my site redesign, I turned into the client from hell – the type of client I avoid like the plague. I worried about (OK, micromanaged) everything. I stressed over the launch. I even texted the designer at 8 p.m. to freak out about my logo color.
Really. That’s how weird I got.
A little bit of perfectionism isn’t bad. It ups our game and helps us do our best work. For instance, revising an important email may make sense – you want to make sure that you include all the necessary details. And sometimes, letting your site design percolate one more day can help you clearly see what needs tweaking.
Where a good thing goes bad is when the revision process is never ending. You edit and tweak and throw it all away and start over. You think about your project all the time. What started out as a cool thing (woohoo – I get to relaunch the site) is now a source of anxiety, dread and sleepless nights.
Your inner editor is a real bitch (or bastard, if you prefer the male version.) Yes, she may have useful things to say. Yes, she may make some good points. But the way she gets her point across is often cruel, slimy and paranoia-inducing.
“Is this the right word? Are you sure? Why don’t you spend the next hour combing the thesaurus to be absolutely sure.”
“Do you think your new client is really going to like this? It’s not your best work, you know.”
“Can you miss your deadline? This article would be much better if you had just a little more time…”
(If you’re like me, your inner editor really gets going around 3 a.m. There’s nothing like waking up in a paranoid sweat, wondering if you accidentally used the wrong form of “there” or if you should have waited one more day before turning in your content.)
Here’s a reality check: your writing will never be perfect. Ever.
There will always be something to edit.
There will always be something that’s not quite right.
And you will always find something that you don’t like.
That’s just how it is. It’s time to get over it. Here’s how:
1. Ask yourself what’s the worst thing that could happen if it’s not perfect. Will you get kicked out of the industry for a typo? Doubt it. Will people mock your new site? Maybe – but who cares if it makes money. Will you lose sales if your headline isn’t perfect? Possibly – but you can change that after the site is launched and you can test. In most cases, the worst thing that will happen is a little short-term embarrassment (and that’s assuming you’ve made a mistake and it’s noticed.) You can deal with that.
2. Get away from the project. I don’t mean a couple hours. I mean leave your project alone for a week or more. When your brain is spinning out of control, you won’t see any new opportunities. You’ll drain your creativity. Just take a freakin’ break already and give yourself permission to let it go. Ever wonder why your best ideas happen in the shower, in the car, or when you’re gardening? It’s because you’re relaxed. Think about it.
3. Set a completion deadline: Tell yourself that you’ll complete your project by X date at Y time. Get specific. Don’t just say, “sometime on Thursday.” And “complete” doesn’t mean “Well, it’s mostly done – but I just want to look at it again.” No. When your deadline hits, you’re done.
4. Tell someone else about your deadline. Ask a friend to email/text/call you after your deadline to see if you followed through. It’s amazing how knowing that someone will follow up can often spur us into action. However, there are some folks who may ignore their text and blow off the deadline. If that sounds like you…
5. Give your friend permission to do it for you. This is extreme, and not for every case. However, if you’re sitting on a site design that’s really pretty good, having your friend push “publish” for you isn’t the end of the world. The site will be launched. The work is off your plate. Your anxiety will ratchet down to normal levels.
Plus, once it’s “out there” and live, you’ll (finally) realize just how damn good your work really is.
And that’s a wonderful feeling.