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How Perfectionism Stops Some Freelance Writers Cold

practiceI was talking with another writer several days ago and they told me in a somewhat confessional manner that they had not finished their website yet.

The problem seem to be they didn’t know how to do a good About Me page.

There’s something about writing about ourselves that is difficult.

But I’ve heard the same sort of notion about almost any part of freelance writing, most particularly about marketing.

Excuses abound

There are all sorts of reasons why writers don’t market themselves or start a new book or finish their websites or send a query to a consumer magazine or open a business checking account or… well, you get the idea.

Well I know who these “reasons” are painful, that doesn’t mean they aren’t really excuses. This type of thinking is, I strongly suspect, a form of perfectionism.

I don’t know how to recognize when something’s perfect

The notion that I can’t get a website finished because the about page isn’t exactly right. or I haven’t found the perfect picture of me, or I don’t know how to list my fees, or I haven’t found the right domain name. or whatever the reason is is really a drive for a perfection that doesn’t exist. It’s an excuse.

Nature is messy. We can look at a redwood forest and think it’s perfect, and in one sense it is, but it’s also messy. There are rotting branches filled with strange looking bugs. Paths yet overgrown if they’re not maintained. Baby birds fall out of nests and whole trees can be destroyed by lightning.

But nature just keeps on building and experimenting. That’s how evolution works. We can look at a nautilus shell cut in half and marble at its chambers and never think how it came to be that way. But it was constant by experimentation.

One of the great things about writing is that it when you do a rough draft you can edit it. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time, thank goodness. It doesn’t even have to be perfect on the 20th or 200th time. In fact it doesn’t have to be perfect even after it’s already in print because another edition can be issued.

Years ago when I recognized I was letting some idea of perfection stop me I realized I didn’t know or have any evidence procedure for perfection. I wouldn’t know if I reached it or not because I can’t tell. Which is why the known to say “I wouldn’t recognize perfection if it knocked on the door and introduced itself.”

Letting go of perfectionism is not a license to be sloppy. It’s only recognizing reality as it is. Do the best you can do today, and call it done. Or decide you’ll rewrite or make changes until you’re satisfied. That’s fine if satisfaction isn’t a thinly disguised bid for perfection and a way to avoid starting or finishing someting.

Where is perfection stopping you?

Next time you realize you’re not getting something done you say you want to get done, pause for a moment. Ask yourself why it’s not happening. In general there are two reasons:

You really don’t want to do it.
You set an impossible standard that you can’t reach

Once you recognize either is the case, it should be fairly easy to get off to let get off it and move on. If it turns out you really don’t want to do it, take it off your to do list. If. on the other hand as so often happens. you set a standard no one could reach, let that idea of perfection go and schedule some regular time to complete the project.

Think it through. What’s the worst that can happen if your about page is awful? You’ll simply write a new one. What’s wrong with trying marketing and finding that a plan doesn’t work? You’ve learned something valuable. Supposing you send a query and your ideas rejected – so what? Query another magazine with the same idea, or figure out what you think is wrong and try again.

We’re lucky that we’re not literally carving things in stone. Although stone carvings can be redone or done over from scratch, that’s a whole lot more difficult than rewriting an about page, or redesigning a website, or any of the other things we keep postponing because we can’t do them well enough – or we think we can’t.

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Write well and often,

annesig.

 

 

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{ 6 comments… add one }
  • I’m okay with the way my website is written, but I don’t know how to do the code it takes to change my contact information and some dead links. I need to get in touch with a programmer!
    Debra Stang recently posted..Fighting Depression with Everything I HaveMy Profile

    • Yeah, my first websites were like that… and I learned html first and then how to use web editors… which is why I like wordpress so much… it’s so easy to change and update myself and when I need help there are a bunch of forums and other resources. But your email says you’re on typepad which is I think the original wordpress… google help w.ith typepad and see what you get

  • Love this! Yeah, I still cringe every time I have to look at my own website. All I see are the flaws. I just think of it as a perpetual work in progress. As long as it keeps getting me clients, it’s probably not as bad as I think it is 🙂
    KeriLynn Engel recently posted..How to Create an Effective Blog Style GuideMy Profile

  • You’ve just explained why I’ve always said that perfectionism is, in and of itself, perhaps the biggest imperfection of all.
    Paula Hendrickson recently posted..Sock Monkey MadnessMy Profile

    • Great minds, Paula, although I hadn’t thought of calling perfectionism an imperfection 😉

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