“Don’t Let the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good”
I’ve been working with a client who is offering consulting services to others in her field. She said something to me during a discussion over materials that we’ve revised repeatedly, and it’s really stuck with me.
Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
This is probably on a mug somewhere, but it’s absolutely the truth. And the reason so many people edit their own writing to death.
See, there’s proofing and editing and then there’s self-destruction. That last thing, that’s where most people stop. It’s the wrong place.
Good Enough Is Often Good Enough
One of the first things you have to learn when you’re a writer (or a business owner producing your own content) is when to stop. It’s one of the most challenging skills to acquire, there is no doubt. And, frankly, the reason it’s hard to learn is because you have to accept certain things about yourself.
For example, you have to accept that you cannot possibly write anything that is completely perfect. You are flawed, your writing will be flawed, the world is flawed.
It feels like giving up at first. But it’s not. It’s more like finding the finish line and crossing it.
Admittedly, this lesson is a bit easier to learn in a newsroom because you’re always fighting a clock. I mean, you still have a deadline when you’re writing for other people, and really, you should set one if you’re writing for yourself, but it’s not the same. There’s always a bit of wiggle room.
So how do you know when enough is enough?
I wish I had a better answer, but the truth is you just have to go with your gut. Or, if your gut fails you, just run with it and hope for the best.
Improving Your Chances for Good Enough
I know this seems like a pretty vague concept, “good enough,” but with time and experience, you will find that sweet spot. In the meantime, invest in yourself and read the leading blogs and publications for your industry. They can give you an idea of the standard that’s expected by your professional peers and your audience, too.
Here are some other signs that your good is good enough:
- It flows when you read it out loud. This is an old trick writers have been using to help them feel how a piece will sound to a reader (and check for errors!). Reading out loud forces a different part of your brain to take a look at what you’ve been up to, almost like a second set of eyes. Almost.
- You’re looking for things to edit just for editing’s sake. I mean, you don’t normally stick the landing the first time, but it’s not completely unheard of. If you can’t find anything that needs to change, so be it. Enjoy your success and don’t force more changes. The harder you scrutinize, the stiffer your content will become.
- Peer review says you’re gold. Even the pros have friends read over their work sometimes, especially when it’s a very important piece. Several years ago now, I wrote a long article for Gold Prospectors Magazine about asteroid mining. I mean, it wasn’t career-defining, but I certainly had a lot invested in it.
I had a few of my peers read my asteroid mining piece through before I sent it to the editor there. I wanted it to be right, but knowing how fine the line is between perfection and over-editing, I allowed myself only two read-throughs. It was by far not the most beloved article that month, nor was it a big traffic generator for them, but I cared a lot. My “gold in trees” story, on the other hand, seems to still be getting some traction. It’s funny how these things work out.
I know it’s easy for me to say, “you know it when you see it, “ but it really can be that simple if you’ve already done a lot of reading (not skimming) of other work published by the biggest players in your field.
You should still spend some time developing the content, of course. I hope these tips will help you figure out when to stop.
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