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The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question? How do you deal with perfectionism in editing? If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question.
How do you deal with perfectionism in editing?
That’s the topic I’m addressing today in The Write Question. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach, still in pandemic mode.
I have a question from Françoise Allard, a writer based in Toulon, France. Here’s what she’s asked by email…
“I have a strong need for perfection, not in writing, because I write easily and quickly, but in editing. I worry that the different topics on my blog aren’t going to be coherent enough. I know that my fear of exposure is deep and irrational and I wonder if you have any suggestions for me.”
Thanks for your question, Françoise. I address the topic of perfectionism in editing and writing on my website, fairly regularly. In the show-notes, below, I include a link to another video and to a blog post as well.
But the point you raise is different, in a really interesting way. You tell me you don’t have difficulty with writing but with editing. In fact, I think it’s more precise to say your problem is with publishing — with being seen and judged.
While the tips I offer about how to overcome perfectionism in writing may help you, let me also give you some advice related specifically to publishing.
Some of us worry a lot about what other people think of us. And this anxiety stops us from doing things because we’re scared of how we’re going to look.
But, according to studies by experts, these fears are misguided. (See show notes for a link to one of these studies from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.) We assume that other people spend far more time passing judgment on us than they actually do. And, we overestimate how negative their perceptions are going to be.
Now, I know it’s one thing to hear about studies like this and another to actually believe them, so let me give you four concrete tips that should help.
1 – Understand that the need to be perfect arises from a need to be liked. This is a symptom of anxiety so take whatever steps you need to keep your anxiety in check. This may include getting counselling, starting to meditate (see show notes) or using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (which you can do for yourself with the book I recommend in the show notes).
2 – Get help from others. If you’re really worried that your blog posts aren’t quite up to snuff, then get feedback from others. This third-party verification should be really helpful to you in allowing you to “let go” of concerns relating to the quality of your work. Let OTHER people tell you that the quality is good enough, and then believe them when they say it is.
3 – Understand you can’t control what other people think. Have you ever had the experience of a really bossy person — perhaps a parent or a teacher — telling you what to do and how to behave? Didn’t it piss you off? Remind yourself that as human beings we all have the right to our own opinions. Don’t try to interfere with the opinions of others because you wouldn’t like to have someone do that to you.
4 – Remind yourself of your own values. If you believe your blog is communicating something important and useful for your readers — and I bet you do — then why would you deprive your readers of this information? Instead of thinking about yourself and your own needs, think about the needs of your readers. Your blog is going to help them. (Even if it isn’t perfect.)
Putting yourself in the shoes of your readers is probably going to be the single most helpful thing you can do to overcome this anxiety related to publishing.
Finally, let me wrap up with the words of the American writer and teacher Anne Lamott: “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.”
Françoise, I really feel for you in your predicament. Even though your perfectionism in editing may be irrational, it’s entirely understandable. As you work to keep your anxiety in check, try focusing on serving the needs of your readers.
If you’d like to learn more about how to make writing a happier and more rewarding process, check out my latest book Your Happy First Draft. I don’t sell it in bookstores or via Amazon. The only place to buy it is on my website, link on the screen below and in the show notes.
An earlier version of this video first appeared on my blog on May 28/21.
How to deal with perfectionism in writing (video)
11 ways to give perfectionism the heave-ho (blog post)
Overestimating the impact of our failures (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology)