By Kel Weinhold, TPII Productivity Coach
Ideas and strategies that inform my coaching in UNSTUCK: The Art of Productivity*.
Perfect is not required. Published is.
For many writers, the path to getting their work submitted disappears painfully into the thorn-infested borderland of getting things just right.
The closer they get to hitting that submit button, the louder the mental chatter gets about what might be wrong and why the work can’t possibly be put out there for feedback.
And in the midst of all that noise, we lose track of the path to the end goal — completed and published — and instead turn toward the thicket of perfectionism.
Let’s just be clear. You cannot ever get to perfect. It doesn’t exist.
But, depending on your belief system, the pursuit of perfect will lands you in one of two nasty locations: 1.) hubris (trying to attain the divine) or 2.) insecurity (trying to avoid critique), leaving you with only two extremes of engagement with your work — brilliant or embarrassing.
But wait, shouldn’t we try to make our work the best it can be? Shouldn’t we aim to be seen as the very top work in our field? I mean, why do it if it’s not the best?
Yes. And No. Yes, you should do YOUR best. Not someone else’s best, but yours. And that, young writer, is far from perfect. And no, you should not be holding yourself to the standards of people who have been doing this thing for decades. Aiming for it, yes. Declining to submit your work until you “feel” like it measures up to it? Nah.
“But wait, I can’t submit this because someone will find a mistake. I’ll have missed something. I will be embarrassed.”
That’s perfectionism talking. (And, just a gentle reminder, you are not your work.)
Of course, someone will find something to critique. That’s the core contract of the academy. We read. We think about what we read. We write something engaging with (read: critiquing) what we read. We submit it. And (we hope!) someone reads it and thinks about it and engages with it. Welcome to academic publishing!
The only way to be in the game (and improve) is to put your work out to be critiqued.
But wait! What if I am not smart enough? How can I possibly get through all of my fears of inadequacy and imposter syndrome to press the submission button?
If you find yourself ceasing to move forward in order to make something “perfect,” the problem is not that what you are trying to do is too difficult for you. The problem is actually the perfectionism itself.
Focusing on each and every tiny detail ultimately RESULTS in losing track of the larger project. And, in yet another case of doing exactly what we were trying to avoid, we fall behind, miss deadlines, and generally increase our stress. In other words, perfectionism is a barrier to success, not a path to it.
The solution? Let go of expectation.
“It’s not going to measure up” is an expectation of how people will react. It is also 100% fiction based in comparison* and a belief in perfectionism.
Just for today, just for right now, let go of being perfect. Let go of meeting anyone’s expectation. Rather than focusing on getting it “right” aim for a solid draft that meets the minimum expectations for publication.
When the blue meanies start to chatter — and they will — just tell them “I’m not I’m not working on perfect. I’m working on joining the world of continuous improvement through engagement and feedback.
*And we all know Comparison is the THIEF OF JOY, right?