I often get mad at myself when I don’t do something perfectly. It’s part of my perfectionist nature. I tend to be that way with many things, including in my work as a freelance proofreader and writer, and my job as a stay-at-home mom.
Even making pasta can get me upset. If I cook it a minute too long, I’m so disappointed with myself. And that’s saying a lot, because I am not a good cook. But there are a few meals that I make surprisingly well, and I want them to come out perfectly every time.
Many writers are perfectionists. Rewriting can be done so many times that it starts to drive a person bonkers. Writers often think they have left out something important in a piece, and it’s difficult to convince them to let go of the work and publish it.
That perfectionist nature can sometimes get in the way of producing high-quality content. If someone lets something as silly as overcooked pasta get them down, what hope do they have when it comes to their writing skills?
But that drive for perfection is what helps them improve upon their work and create engaging content.
An artist’s work is never done. You never think the finished product is good enough. But it is so rewarding to see a document at the beginning of the process and then see it after you have rewritten and proofread it a few thousand times.
And the good news is, there are ways that people can overcome the tendency to think everything they write has to be perfect. After all, it’s okay if their content is just great.
According to Psychology Today, “For perfectionists, life is an endless report card on accomplishments or looks.”
Perfectionism is all about fear. Perfectionists are so afraid they won’t do everything perfectly that they sometimes don’t do what they were planning to do because they just assume it will fail. Why try if you can’t succeed 100 percent? Perfectionists see what’s wrong instead of focus on what’s right. They are afraid of receiving negative feedback and afraid they aren’t good enough, or smart enough, or qualified enough. They lack the confidence needed to know they’re doing a good job, even when they don’t receive positive feedback and glowing reviews for all the work they produce.
What do people picture when they think of perfectionists? They might think of nerdy bookworms who always do things the right way, follow rules and processes, and are perfect in every way. Their desk or house is probably neat and orderly.
This is not always reality.
Perfectionists actually can have problems with low productivity and procrastination, because if they can’t produce work that is absolutely perfect, they would rather not complete it at all. They hold themselves back from completing projects for fear that the final product won’t be perfect. Their house might be a mess because they just can’t think of the perfect way to organize everything.
There are both positive and negative traits associated with perfectionism. You might think of a perfectionist as someone who is incredibly reliable and responsible. But what you might not know is they tend to be hypercritical of themselves and unrealistic in their expectations. They can also lack confidence in the quality of their work, even though at times they may seem like the hardest-working or most successful people on earth.
There is a difference between perfectionism and striving for excellence. Everyone should want to strive to be the best at what they do. The problem comes about when nothing short of perfect is good enough. It becomes a problem when a person feels negative about everything they do. It’s difficult to move forward on projects because perfectionists are afraid they will disappoint others. They are afraid none of their work or other aspects of their life will ever be good enough.
Those who strive for excellence know that they will give 100 percent effort every time, but that they might still fail from time to time. That’s alright with them, because they can use failure as an opportunity for future improvement. It is completely normal to have some fear or stress regarding the quality of your work. In fact, it can be healthy, and will nudge you to keep giving your best effort. However, it is not normal for the anxiety of possible failure to take over your thoughts and consume you.
Perfectionists are hypercritical of themselves and can also be critical of others. They can become upset when their work is not as perfect as it could be, and they also are disappointed in their staff or colleagues if their work misses the mark. It could be hard for perfectionists to delegate work to others, because they think if they themselves can’t be perfect, how could someone else come even close to producing quality work?
Striving for perfection, which includes setting high goals for yourself and endeavoring for excellence in your work and personal life, is completely okay. But if you are terrified of making a mistake or of constantly disappointing others, and if you beat yourself up when your performance is not flawless, you have issues with perfectionism.
Whether you’re trying to get a manuscript published, writing content for a blog, or creating copy for a company newsletter or website, a good writer always tries to make sure the content is flawless. That’s not a bad thing. But as we’ve seen, perfectionism can get in the way of your creativity and productivity.
Writers (especially those whose principal job is writing) can get caught in an endless cycle of revising their text and find themselves never able to let go of a piece of writing. But that’s what makes them good at what they do. They are always finding ways to rewrite their text to improve upon it. They spend hours on research to find the best sources or to come up with inspiration for their articles and posts.
The same thing applies to entrepreneurs writing for their businesses. They work so hard in all aspects of their business, and they don’t want to skimp on the content side. They want everything to be perfect, to a fault.
But what happens if your perfectionist tendencies get in the way of your writing?
When it comes to creating quality content, perfectionists can get in their own way. Here are some of the thoughts that can hold them back:
Wow, what a bummer. Let’s move on and talk about the steps writers can take to push past these perfectionist tendencies and produce high-quality content.
There are steps writers can take during and after the writing process to produce high-quality content without letting perfectionism keep them down. Here are a few methods to try:
Whatever thoughts come to mind, jot them down as quickly as possible. If you’re like me, you are constantly thinking of ideas for new articles, books, or section headings at random times (while at the grocery store, while brushing your teeth). You might be pumping gas into your car and think, “Ooh, that’s a great idea for my next blog post! I need to find a pen and some paper to write that down!” Gather all your ideas so you don’t lose them, and then go back through them later to flesh out the good ideas from the bad ones.
One way to do this is through free writing, in which you quickly capture ideas on paper as they come into your mind without overthinking things or judging yourself too harshly. Sometimes people give themselves a certain amount of time in which to jot these ideas down. This technique can help you come up with new ideas for content, defeat writer’s block, and help with your creative process. This type of writing can also help you move past thinking about typos, grammatical errors, flowery writing, etc., because you are simply letting your thoughts fly free.
After you write something, leave it be for a bit and go back and look at it a day or two later with a fresh perspective. It might be driving you crazy because you’ve been staring at it for three days straight and aren’t getting anywhere. Give your mind some time to refresh itself and then get back on the horse (or get those fingers back on the keyboard).
It can be tough to take a break from your work, especially when you’re really stuck on something and just want to get it done. But if you notice you have rewritten the same sentence six times and you still aren’t happy with it, take a break for a while and come back to it with a clear mindset. It will be much easier to craft a perfect sentence once you shake away the cobwebs. Try to overcome your tendency to persist past the point of it being useful.
Write for a certain amount of time every day to keep your skills fresh. Or read and relax for a certain amount of time each week to get into a groove. Find a cozy spot on the couch to type out notes on a computer or jot them down on a notepad.
Find whatever works for you and stick with it. Just make sure your goals are realistic. Setting a goal of writing for 15 minutes every day is much more achievable than saying you’ll write for two hours every day, which could set you up for disappointment. Setting achievable goals helps train you to not be so unrealistic with your expectations.
Don’t try to emulate someone else’s style. Own yours and make it the best it can be. You might think one author’s or blogger’s writing style is better than yours, but your customers might dig your content much more than that other person’s. If you compare yourself to another writer, you’ll always be holding yourself to an unattainable standard, because you can’t write exactly like that person. You’ll be stuck in a continuous cycle of being critical of your work and yourself. Just focus on writing for your audience and you’ll produce the type of content needed for your customers.
If you regularly receive positive feedback on your content and have a lot of people visiting your website and following you on social media, keep doing what you’re doing! Obviously, something’s working. Keep using that same process to produce future content.
It’s not just a good rule for spaghetti! This works especially well for blogging or other electronic publishing. Get your content out there. You can tweak or correct something later if it’s wrong — there’s no need to keep staring at the same text, changing one or two words (and then changing them back again). As with cooking pasta, if you wait too long to publish your content, your ideas may turn to mush … and just like overcooked pasta, that’s not good for anyone.
If you can’t include all the information you want in one blog post and you think it’s still missing something, write a follow-up post the next week. Create a series of short posts instead of one long one that doesn’t leave the audience wanting more. Of course, you want to do your due diligence and not skimp on quality just to get a certain quantity of blog posts or articles published, but you need to find a happy medium.
Not sure what they need? Ask them! Include a single question in each of your company’s electronic newsletters or email blasts or put a short questionnaire on your website to receive some feedback. That way, when you write your blog, you’ll know your audience will want to hear what you have to say.
If you communicate directly with your audience, you can set realistic ideas of what pertinent content they want to read, instead of making unrealistic assumptions about what they are interested in reading, how much they want to read, etc.
After taking those steps, if you still aren’t confident in your writing, take a course! There are many writing courses out there that can refresh your skills. They cover everything from article writing, to blog writing, to crafting content for social media, to novel writing, so pick your poison. You’ll either learn something new or you’ll feel more confident in your existing skillset.
Taking a course can help you learn to accept constructive criticism. Perfectionists are afraid to receive criticism, even the constructive kind, so immersing yourself in a course where you will receive feedback from an instructor as well as from fellow writers could help you move past that fear. You might also be able to see receiving criticism not as a sign of complete and utter failure but just as a chance to improve upon the way you are currently doing things.
Writers are always finding ways to rewrite their text to improve upon it. But all the rewriting and proofreading is worth it because it is so rewarding to watch the first draft of an article blossom into a work of art at the end of the process.
If you drag your feet on posting content for fear that it is not of high enough quality, another company might post something similar before you get your information out there, and your potential customers could choose their services instead of yours. You might miss an opportunity due to your hesitation.
Perfectionists need to learn not to be so afraid of failing and learn to let go. Entrepreneurs have great ideas and informative content to share with their customers through their writing. Embrace the good qualities of your writing and try to improve upon the ones that need some work.
It’s difficult to move past perfectionist tendencies, but by following a few pieces of advice, you might be able to let go a bit more and feel more confident about the content you produce.
Still having trouble letting go of your content for final publication? Ask for help!
Hiring editors and proofreaders to review your content is a great way to improve upon it and provide a fail-safe for your writing. Trust that the editor will provide appropriate feedback to improve your writing and make it more enticing for your customers. Editors can help you be more accountable. They can read your first draft and provide feedback before you become mired in the flaws of your writing.
Or if you are not very confident in your writing ability, hire a writer! Armed with the necessary background information and given the proper direction, the writer can craft exactly the message you want to project to your clients and customers.
After writing and rewriting a piece enough times, you’ll see that the finished product is tons better than the first draft. Keep that in mind the next time you’re super hard on yourself after reading the final draft of your content. You’re doing great.
Perfection be damned. Don’t be afraid to pick up that pen or open that computer and start writing some quality content.
Melissa Lewis Grimm, ELS, graduated from Millersville University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. She has worked as an editor and a marketing manager for a laboratory standards–developing organization, a proofreader for a nursing continuing education provider, and a journal manager for a scientific and medical publishing company. Despite Melissa’s work history, one of her lofty goals is to become a world-famous voiceover talent. Yes, you read that correctly! She loves spending time with her wonderful husband and adorable toddler. She is currently Senior Copy Editor at Craft Your Content.