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About Johanna Rothman

Johanna Rothman
Johanna consults, speaks, and writes about managing product development. She helps managers and leaders do reasonable things that work. You can read more of her writings at jrothman.com.

Perfection Rules in Writing? You Might Be Micromanaging Yourself

Do you ever encounter perfection rules when you write (or create in any way)? Maybe you’ve heard these statements—or you’ve said them to yourself:

  • We must spend a lot of time “polishing” to create perfect writing.
  • We must not publish until the work is perfect.
  • We can create a perfect piece and it’s worth our time to do so.

I wish I could tell you any of these were true. I can’t.

These statements are all false. Each and every one of them.

When we allow our perfection rules to sabotage our writing, we stop publishing. We often stop writing. That’s because we micromanage each step of the process, instead of trusting ourselves to solve this problem with our writing.  (See Leadership Tip #9: See & Stop Micromanagement—Learn to Trust Instead.)

How? You practice “good enough” writing and learn to trust yourself.

Practice Good Enough Writing to Avoid Polishing

I learned to write faster and better when I took a topic—any topic—and write for 15 minutes. Not editing. Writing-down. (See Writing Secret 2: Increase Writing Speed When You Separate Writing From Editing.)

Let’s deconstruct what I said.

First, choose a topic. Any topic. Do I have perfection rules about topics? Of course I do. Instead of letting my choice paralyze me (I must choose a perfect topic), I say this: I can choose any topic and write for 15 minutes without stopping.

If I’m done then, I can publish. If I have more to say, I can choose when to write more.

Second, write forward for 15 minutes. No editing. Writing-down. No backing up.

What if you have typos? Who cares? You can fix them in editing. And for now, look away from the screen. You might look at your fingers to train yourself to write without typos. Or you can look out the window as long as you keep writing. Fingers on the keyboard. Or pen across paper.

You can fix typos at the end, when you edit. You can’t finish anything if you don’t finish writing.

The more you practice writing-down, the better your first draft will be. You might not need another draft. At all.

Can You Publish Before a Piece is Perfect?

Absolutely. I don’t strive for perfection on my blogs. And many of you have offered me feedback when things don’t make sense. (Thank you!)

And if you want feedback, you’re better off publishing before the piece looks perfect. You can ask for feedback and people will offer it.

Now, for the biggie about time for perfection.

It’s Not Worth Your Time to Make a Piece Perfect

I write a lot. While I try to make my blog posts understandable, I don’t aim for perfection. I focus on clarifying my thoughts.

Why?

Even after I agree to changes, sometimes, editors make more changes. If I focus on clarifying my thoughts, editors tend to make fewer changes.

And don’t get me started on books.

I’ve published almost 20 books. It doesn’t matter how many editors I use, I can open a book anywhere and find a problem within a couple of pages.

You know about the Pareto Principle, that 80% of the outcomes arise from 20% of the work? Apply that to your writing. That’s why I focus on clarity first.

We rarely clarify with editing. More often, you need a story, example, data, a picture—something that helps the reader understand your intent.

So how can you learn to trust your writing and not micromanage yourself?

Transform your perfection rules into guides and practice writing-down.

Transform Your Perfection Rules

Here’s how to transform a perfection rule into a guide:

  1. State the rule precisely:

must always do a perfect job. (You might have to be more specific. I must always choose a great topic; or reach my ideal reader; or write to my clients. If you can say, “always,” you captured your perfection rule.)

  1. Change must to can. Is it true? Ask yourself. Verify.

can always do a perfect job. (For example, I can always choose a great topic. Or I can always reach my ideal reader, etc.)

  1. Change always to sometimes. Is it true? Ask yourself. Verify.

I can sometimes do a perfect job. (I can sometimes choose a great topic. I can sometimes reach my ideal reader, etc.)

  1. Select three or more circumstances when you can follow the guide.

I can do a perfect job when:

  • I feel the job is important.
  • I have sufficient time.
  • The nature of the work permits it.

When you transform rules into guides, you stop micromanaging yourself. You learn to trust yourself. As long as you practice.

Practice Writing (With Me)

Practice writing-down with editing at the end. Write down and wait until you’re done to start editing. You will learn to trust yourself and spend a lot less time polishing.

Published on Java Code Geeks with permission by Johanna Rothman , partner at our JCG program. See the original article here: Perfection Rules in Writing? You Might Be Micromanaging Yourself

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