It’s Never Going to Be Perfect

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.

15 replies
  1. Daphne Gray-Grant says:

    Your headline puts it, well, perfectly! Never expect your writing to be perfect!

    One of my favourite suggestions for people to have a hard time with this is the one you’ve cited as #2. I call it incubation. Don’t look at what you’ve written for awhile. Writers with short term deadlines won’t be able to allow a week but most can allow at least a day.

    When you go back to reread you’ll approach it with fresh eyes and be in a better position to self-edit.

    • Heather says:

      Love it! You call it incubation – I call it percolation. It’s amazing what you can “see” when you give yourself a little space.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Christina Cruz says:

    I don’t think I can say thank you enough for this posting!!! I am actually able to breath and stop freaking out. I have been working on a project and I hate my copy because it isn’t perfect. Now I am going to back off for a week or so.
    Thank you so much!

    • Heather says:

      Cool! Please stop back after a week or so and let us know how it went – here’s hoping that the editing process goes much more smoothly for you! ;)

  3. Jesse Wojdylo says:

    It is so funny that I am reading this today. I just left a comment on one of my friends websites about just hitting hitting the publish button. If you are willing to write in the manner in which you speak or talk you should not overanalyze every single word. When in a conversation, you do not sit and think of the things you are going to say, you simply say them.

    The one thing I would encourage business owners to do is to hit the publish button. Almost all websites have the “edit” option. Use that if you find there are mistakes. You will be better off having published content that has one or two mistakes than having never published content at all.

    Great piece!

    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      YES, @Jesse! I totally agree!

      (As a side note, my designer pushed “publish” on my new design long before I felt the content was ready. In fact, I’m still revising it. I thought I’d obsess over every little word that’s not “right.” Instead, I’m just thrilled that the redesign is live…and I can fix the content as I have time. Whew! Apparently, even I need to remember that it’s never going to be perfect.) :)

  4. Lowell says:

    It all depends. Who will consume your content? If your printer delivers 5,000 letters and envelopes with Heather Loyd-Martin on the letterhead/return address, you’ll refuse the shipment. It’s only off one letter. What the big deal? That’s not your correct name. In that case you’ll demand perfection.

    The conversational method shouldn’t be an excuse for sloppy writing: “Jack lead Jill up the hill to fast.” Because the average person receives over 100 emails each day, they have the luxury of choosing to read clear communication. If they don’t understand what was going on between Jack and Jill, they can hit unsubscribe, delete, or spam. There goes your SEO. Although not a dictionary definition, we might consider something perfect – or good enough if you prefer, when the recipient responds as planned.

    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      @Lowell, interesting point. I think you’re right. There are some things you *should* be perfectionist about – spelling people’s names correctly would be one of the things on the list. :) However, little things…like tweaking a word…may not require 3 hours of brain-time.


  5. Jim Driggers says:

    Great post, thanks!

    I think perfectionism in writing strikes professional writers particularly hard. We’re supposed to be the experts at putting words together. If there’s a typo, subject-verb disagreement, homonym used out of place, etc. in a carpenter’s website, no big deal–writing isn’t that person’s profession. Writers, however, are judged and paid by how well they write.

    As an aside, I find it interesting some non-writers become self-conscious of their writing when they write to me since they know I’m a writer.

    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      Great points, Jim – thanks! I’m laughing over here, because I hear the “I feel weird writing an email to a writer” line quite a bit. I tell them that if they’re not paying me to evaluate their writing, I’m not judging them. :)

  6. Adam Mason says:

    Great points Heather,
    I have found that letting it go for a few days is the most powerful, the hardest, but the most powerful. I found that if I am stressing over a project and rewriting every second line I really need to just put the project down and walk away. For me a walk around the block is usually enough.

  7. Louis S. says:

    When it comes to business, trial and error is almost a necessity, as is risk taking. If you don’t take risks and see what happens, who knows what potential opportunities you missed on waiting for no particular reason. No-ones perfect, With content writing I am never really all too hesitant on how something looks as I am a very vocal person. If someone brings up a mistake I made that’s great, i’ll fix it! If it doesn’t look quite right, that’s fine. I’ll tone it to better suit the readers needs in the future! Either way, thanks for the share :)


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  1. […] too long to write something, it’s time to tighten down your process. Remember, your copy is never going to be perfect. No matter how many times you tweak it. […]

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