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Have you ever set yourself a blogging deadline and allowed it to slip by because you weren’t completely happy with your post? Did you justify your overrun by telling yourself it was important to get things just right? Is your inner perfectionist killing your creativity?
Perfectionism is a completely understandable defence mechanism, but in reality is simply a delaying tactic, to avoid the possibility of failure.
We tell ourselves that the reason we haven’t yet posted that new article, or finished building that website is because we want it to be absolutely, one hundred percent, flawlessly, undeniably perfect. But what we are really saying is,
“I’m scared to show this to people, because they might
- laugh at me
- shoot me down in flames
- tell the world I’m an idiot
(Delete as appropriate)
It is fear, plain and simple.
So we fiddle and tinker and adjust and tweak and rewrite and polish and rearrange and do all those other time-wasting things to try to assuage the terror and damp down our self-doubts.
Sometimes we spend so long fiddling that by the time the blog post is ready to go, it has passed its sell by date or someone else has beaten us to it.
Beating the Perfectionist Bug
The only cure for the infected perfectionist is a healthy dose of rationalism and a change of mindset.
How do you know that version three wasn’t better than what you have now? Or version one for that matter? Did you test it? How much time could you have saved and used to create the next piece, rather than fiddling with this one?
The answer is simple – get it out there and move on. If it’s rubbish, you’ll soon find out from the feedback and you can learn from that and improve the next one. Chances are it’s not and you’ll get nothing but positives.
I’ve been there
Having wrestled with self-critical thoughts about my writing for many years, it was actually blogging that finally released me. I looked at what other people were doing on the web and I could see immediately that it wasn’t perfect. But, it was good.
I began to realise that readers don’t want perfection, they want useful.
I stopped trying to compete with the best in the business and focused on competing with myself; making each piece just a little bit better, a little bit more useful than the last. If I can deliver something of value to just one reader, then my work is done.
Now I can jump into creating and spend less time agonising. As a result I believe I am a better, more relaxed writer.
I often look back at previous posts and see things that could be improved and sometimes I do go in and tweak things a little. But, I’ve never yet had anybody comment on my prose style or my grammar or my twisted syntax.
People engage with what I say, not how I say it.
Or they don’t. And if they don’t, it’s not because my sentences don’t scan smoothly. It’s because I didn’t say anything very interesting in the first place.
We are not alone
Having overcome this demon in myself, I wondered how other people have managed to beat the bug.
One of my favourite bloggers is Darren Rowse of Problogger.net. Darren has built one of the most successful and informative blogs on the planet. It is a decent sized business now with over 20,000 visitors a day, but it all began in Darren’s spare time, just like your blog and mine.
He wrote a very revealing piece, recently about all the things that he has created that weren’t perfect and he also talks about all the things that he spent far too long putting off through self-doubt.
In the post he talks about how he started his digital photography blog and how letting go of his high expectations allowed him to create something that wasn’t ideal, but was enough:
“I had the dream and one day I realised that if I didn’t actually start the blog I’d never have any chance of arriving at that dream. So I started small.
- I made a call on a brand and domain name – It wasn’t perfect but it allowed me to start
- I started on GoDaddy Hosting – I knew it wasn’t the best option but it allowed me to start
- I started with a free WordPress theme – it wasn’t as professional or customised as what I saw in my dreams but it allowed me to start
- I wrote a handful of posts – I wanted to have more in my archives but it allowed me to start
- I started with comments switched off to allow me to focus on creating more content – doing so fell short of my vision for a ‘community’ driven site but it allowed me to get moving
That repeated phrase sums up everything that is right about taking action, rather than planning for it:
“It wasn’t perfect, but it allowed me to start”.
As Darren shows, the antidote for our perfectionist procrastination is to simply do something. Do something that’s good enough and then do something else and something else and keep on doing something else until, before you know it, you have built the dream.
Nancy Butts, in her brilliantly titled post, Perfection, the Graveyard Where Writers Go to Die, suggests that you should:
“Give yourself permission to write dreck, and lots of it. I’m not the first writer to say this, but you have to write a lot of bad prose in order to find your voice, your rhythm, and get to the good stuff. if you keep your hand moving, eventually after a few minutes something will shift into gear in your writer’s brain and a word, a phrase, a sentence will pop out—a good one. OK, maybe it will only be a middling good one at first, but don’t worry. Write it down anyway. You can fix it later. For now your priority is to stop judging yourself and keep writing.”
The Last Word on Perfectionism
The real master philosopher of moving forward and making things happen is Seth Godin, successful entrepreneur, best-selling author and public speaker.
In this inspiring talk Godin explains exactly why it is that the closer we get to decision time, the more we start to thrash about in self-doubt.
His mantra, “Ship, don’t thrash” is a perfect summation of exactly why we have to get off our butts and create, instead of sitting around picking our perfection scabs.
Or as Salvador Dali said:
“Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it”
Let us know how have you overcome your perfection bug – leave a comment below
By the way, if you want to find out what a Perfectionist you really are, try this Quiz