Stop Stalling: Perfection is an Aspiration, Not a Destination
“Writing to 'get it right the first time' is like driving a car with the emergency brake on. In order to write more good stuff faster, and suffer less, you need to focus on removing the stalling, obsessing and nitpicking from your composing process, and to think about a different kind of process.” ~ Joan Bolker
A few months ago, I was struggling mightily with a byline article for a client. I had done hours of research. I had talked to industry experts. I had piles of reports and articles at my disposal. And yet, all I had to show for it was an unbridled frustration, a looming deadline and a blinking cursor.
The problem? I was obsessing over every word, and basically killing myself trying to make the first draft perfect. In my quest for perfection, I became frustrated, soured on the project and ended up creating a first draft that was uninspiring by anyone’s standards. The final product eventually met expectations, but only after a few late nights and some handwringing. Where did I lose the project? And how could I prevent this from happening again?
Often when I am looking for answers to life’s problems, I turn to some of my favorite blogs for inspiration. On that day (courtesy of one of my favorite bloggers, Merlin Mann of 43 Folders, among others) I found a link to the above quote by Joan Bolker. Bolker is a clinical psychologist and writer whose specialty is consulting to blocked writers, and creator of the blog Writing Medicine.
In her entry Writing More, Faster and Better, Suffering Less, Bolker actually challenges writers to change their process, and suggests that “carefully and painstakingly” might not be the best way to get it done.
Taking it one step further, I think the point of Bolker’s piece (which is definitely worth a read if you need some quick inspiration, or are just trying to be a better writer) is we often do our best work when we are unencumbered and just letting the flow of our ideas take shape. The anxiety that we experience as “communications professionals” is only exacerbated when we overcomplicate the task at hand with the expectations of our supervisors, clients, and partners (not mention our own personal pride in our work). In essence, the more you are thinking about writing and who and what it impacts, the less you are actually writing.
Corporate communicators/PR professionals/spinners of lore should spend a lot more time writing for craft, and a lot less time saddling themselves with unreasonable expectations and imaginary benchmarks. The best writers know how to take complex concepts and make them palatable for a wider audience. All of them will tell you that it’s never the project that’s complicated: it’s usually the project manager. As jazz legend Charles Mingus once opined, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity.” Stop complicating things by envisioning what you perceive the final product should look like and just start writing.
Writers, take heart. Remind yourselves that a draft is simply that, and that writing, like anything else, is a something you get better at the more that you do it. I think most of us would be very surprised to find that our “zero drafts” are actually closer to final than we ever expect, and that delaying or complicating that creativity is what truly leads to anxiety and missed expectations. The biggest obstacle to reaching “perfection” is actually starting to write. So, start typing, and go make something.