Okay, maybe “former perfectionist” is more optimistic than accurate: I continue to struggle with perfectionism, sometimes daily. And my Inner Critic tends to resurface whenever I’m working on tasks for a client, especially a newsletter article or blog post.
Imagine my surprise when A CLIENT mentioned that writing always took her longer than planned. “I can’t write 500 words in less than three hours without sacrificing quality,” she said. It was obvious she too struggled with perfectionism. So I shared with her my process (below) which she now uses and loves.
The writing process of a former perfectionist:
1. Brainstorm and outline the article on notebook paper. This step assumes you’ve already done the necessary research for your piece. I find the physicality of writing with pen and paper stimulates the creative juices more than typing.
TIP: Don’t want to handwrite your outline? Use an audio recorder. Often during playback, new – sometimes even better – stuff will come to you.
2. Write the article. The most important part of this step is absolutely NO EDITING while you write. I mean it, none! This was the step my client thought might kill her because she would write a couple paragraphs then go back to the top and edit. Write a few more, scroll back up to the top, and edit the whole thing again. No wonder it took her hours and hours to write one article.
3. Take a break for at least 30 minutes.
TIP: For longer pieces, 500 words or more, I stay away for at least 2 hours.
4. Re-read the article. NO EDITING. Read through the entire piece as the audience would and make notes on the paper where you wrote your outline. The point is, you don’t want to activate your Inner Critic just yet.
5. Now you’re ready to edit. The method used for editing is a whole other discussion.
TIP: Set a time limit so you don’t over-edit. My max is 30 minutes for every 500 words.
6. After the first editing session, let the piece simmer for at least 24 hours no matter the length. My client would spend HOURS (in one session!) editing 500 words, hit publish, then come back the next day and still find “problems.” You need time away from the words so they regain their “freshness.”
7. The following day print out the piece and re-read it again. NO EDITING. If you spot a misspelled word or incorrect/missing punctuation feel free to mark up your paper, but save the hardcore editing for Step 8.
8. Make the last round of edits. Again, set a time limit to prevent over-editing.
9. Re-read the article for a third (and final) time but only for obvious mistakes in grammar or spelling. By this step the guts of your article should be relatively stable. If not, well, that’s another discussion.
10. Hit PUBLISH or SEND depending on the medium to which you’re submitting the piece. Consider the article set in stone at this point. It’s tempting to go back and re-read a recently published blog post “just one more time” but I guarantee if you do you will find “just one more thing” to correct, change, rearrange or tweak.
TIP: Use published material to improve future work. I encourage you to re-read old posts as a way to enhance your skills and inspire new topics. But you have to be strong enough to resist the Inner Critic, who will whisper ways you could edit what’s already been published.
Remember, my method may not work for everyone. And it doesn’t work for me when I write anything fiction – flash, short story, novella, etc. But I figured, seeing how I’m most definitely not the only former perfectionist in the world, this process might help others write posts or articles for their blog or website.
Photo credit: David Ashe