Perfect doesn’t exist

Are you bored of hearing that?

Perfectionism is a futile pursuit. We all know that.

So, I'd like to talk to you about an approach that works for me. Something practical – a roadmap, if you will – for you to make use of.

Iterations.

Viewing an idea, a project, a piece of writing as an iteration permits progress and creates space for improvement. And that’s something seeking perfection can never deliver upon.

Perfectionism doesn’t work. Try this instead

Writing is an iterative process. Perhaps it’s the iterative process; you jot down notes, notes become a word-processed document, and you come back to the document time and time again to edit, re-work and amend. Maybe there are better examples than writing. Though writing is the trade I have, so that’s what I’m going to roll with.

This post gives you some small insight into how I use iterations to get any writing done. I hope these practical steps give you a way to approach your own line of work, whatever that may be.  

Step 1

I get everything out of my head

If it stays in there, it'll never make progress. The world will never even know about it. And yes, of course, nobody will be able to criticise my writing or say that it's this or that, when it’s safely tucked away in my noggin.

On the other hand, they'll never be able to benefit from or connect with what I share.

So, I get whatever is buzzing around my head out on the page. I scrawl mind maps; I bullet point lists. Sometimes I even go for walks and record my thoughts into my phone as I go. I do get some odd looks.

Step 2

I get my scrawl/list/verbal spew into a reasonable shape

Okay. This isn't about making it perfect. This isn't about polishing what’s on the page so that it sparkles like a diamond. It's simply about getting the basics sorted.

What does that mean?

  • I’ll interrogate the brain dump: why is such and such a point true? What does that bit really mean? I’ll hunt for objections and do my best to overcome them. In short, I clarify my thinking  

  • Rudyard Kipling wrote: ‘I keep six honest serving-men/(They taught me all I knew);/Their names are What and Why and When/And How and Where and Who’ – I cycle through these question words to make sure I’ve clarified as much as I can. Again, not perfecting, but making sure the basics are covered

  • Next, I make sure the writing makes sense, that there are proper sentences and that it’s organised into easy-to-grasp, flowing paragraphs. I’ll add headers to aid understanding and improve readability

  • The final stage of getting the basics sorted is to finish off with a spelling and grammar check

At this point, it’s in a more coherent shape than when I scribbled a mind map across my notebook.

Shakespeare, it ain’t. Yet going through the iterative process and making sure I have the basics covered removes the need for the crutch of perfectionism. I can stand on my own two feet, knowing that my work can do the same.

Step 3

Set it free

This is the hard part. Putting it out there.

I’d be lying if I said it was a doddle.

Words are ideas and ideas will become more refined over time.

But not if I never stress test them, not if they only exist inside the glass case of my head or the sheltered safety of my hard drive. They will never improve, they will never be challenged, they will never be worked upon, and they will never progress.

And if I put something out that's not perfect, if I could have done better, so what? I know that I can work out those kinks the next time. And the next time. And the next time.

Step 4

Have faith

Stick with me here. This part does help with the fear that is step three.

My iterations of my writing, your iterations of whatever you are working on, are more powerful than either of us believe. Like a millstone that takes a lot of effort to get moving, once you’ve got that thing in motion, it takes on a life of its own, picking up speed and grinding the corn to make flour which will sustain you and the people around you – your customers – for a long while. 

And yes, keeping the faith is difficult. But honestly, I can say to you, I've had some of the warmest conversations about my writing when I've forged ahead with words that weren’t ‘ready’ – or perfect.

And that place of having a little faith isn't one of fear. Although it does feel kind of scary to unleash your iteration on the world!

It's a place of growth. And perfectionism doesn't allow any room for growth.

So chuck it out.

Perfectionism doesn’t have to stop you

So, that's a whistle-stop tour of my writing process, and how iterations play a part in keeping me going. I hope you can make use of this model and apply it to your own work; experiment, adapt it, and find what works for you.

My closing question to you is, what can you iterate today? This week? This month?

Is it a LinkedIn post? Is it an idea you've been working on which you’d love some feedback about? Maybe you've been working on a piece of art. Who knows? It could be anything.

And so, I invite you to iterate today. Get out there and give yourself room to progress.

I can’t wait to see what you create.

Your words matter,

Laura