As a freelance writer you definitely need to do high-quality work, but you need to know when to avoid perfectionism and stop working on an assignment, a story, or a blog post and call it good enough.
There’s a saying I’ve encountered many times, a variation on a Voltaire quote: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
Now this is a delicate point. You definitely need to make sure you’ve done a great job, but too many writers go over and over their words making minute changes that result in only marginal improvements, and sometimes they actually make things worse.
Perfectionism, Time Management, and Productivity
Avoiding perfectionism is a key time management skill that will dramatically increase your productivity. It will free up lots of time for you to work on other writing projects or devote to other important areas of your life.
Perfectionism and the Freelance Writer: Example
I once wrote an instructor’s manual for a brand new textbook, probably about 50,000 words. Typically I would write a section and then immediately edit it. I’d also give it a quick read the next day.
When I was all done, I read through the entire manuscript one more time. It took several hours for the final read-through. I only made a couple of minor changes in wording and found maybe one or two missing commas. Since then I no longer do the extra round of editing, and I save myself a lot of time and energy.
Perfectionism and the Outdoor Book Author: Example
As some of you may know, I also write hiking guidebooks on Northern California. I’m currently working on the page proofs for my newest book: Hike the Parks: Redwood National and State Parks (publishing June 1, 2019 by Mountaineers Books, Seattle).
For those of you unfamiliar with the traditional publishing process, page proofs are the final stage: the photos, maps, graphics, and text are all laid out, and it’s the last chance for the author to correct any errors or make minor changes.
My task: write captions for all the photos, create the index, and review the pages for any errors. It’s the last task where I decided not to be a perfectionist. I’ve thoroughly reviewed the text of my book at least five times:
- First draft
- Second draft
- After I put the entire manuscript together
- After a professional editor went through the entire manuscript
- In the galleys
After I finished marking up the galleys with all additions and corrections, I photocopied the entire thing. So now, at the page proofs stage, I reviewed my copy of the galleys and made sure everything was taken care of.
Part of me still wanted to read through the whole thing one more time. I emailed my editor and she said I didn’t need to, that a professional editor was going through the page proofs line by line, carefully checking everything.
I’m sending them back to Mountaineers Books today.
How has perfectionism affected your productivity and freelance writing or book writing? How do you determine how good is good enough?