Stop Feeling Guilty That Your Writing Isn’t Perfect
Have you ever come up with a great idea only to have self-doubt choke you the moment you want to hit publish?
You pour your heart out behind the scenes. When you’re in draft mode, you can say anything and no one will complain. No one will be offended.
And no one can benefit from your awesome insights.
Perfectionism robs us of opportunities to create art, to serve others, and to grow. How does it sabotage you?
Here are a few ways.
Tell yourself you hate it.
Every first draft is crap.
That’s what the experts say.
But is it 100% total crap? Is there nothing at all that is worth keeping in your first words?
I doubt it.
First drafts are raw material. A house doesn’t come in a box. It comes in thousands of pieces made of a variety of materials.
All you have to do is put it together.
You’ll probably have some unexpected costs to deal with. You might change your mind about what color to paint your bedroom or what kind of tile to put in your bathroom.
If you have a blueprint, you’ll build a house that looks like your plan. Actually, it’ll probably look better!
But it won’t be perfect.
You might get frustrated along the way, but I bet you won’t throw in the towel — especially if you put in months of sweat and muscle to get so far.
So don’t tell yourself you hate your work. It’s still malleable until you publish. Shape it into something that thrills you.
Perfect is a lie.
How do you define perfect?
A post that makes the front page?
A piece that has no grammatical errors whatsoever?
Work that mesmerizes people and moves them to do your bidding?
If you asked 100 people what “perfect” means, you’ll get 100 different definitions. Your perfect isn’t my perfect. Your goals aren’t my goals. And your audience isn’t my audience.
So much for one perfect that fits all.
You can’t say it all in one post. You’ll run out of time and space. You can always say it better.
Quit trying so hard.
Here’s something that’s better than perfect.
Effective is better because you can measure it. It comes from the specific goals you set for yourself.
Want 100 fans for your post? Great! You now have something to shoot for. And you’ll know what you need to learn and do to make it come true.
100 fans is as clear a target as a bullseye is for your arrow.
The moon is a visible target, too. But you can’t hit it from here.
Aim high. Focus hard. Then set up your target so you can’t miss.
In other words, be gloriously imperfect.
Show us your flaws. We have some, too. When we see yours, and that you haven’t let them stop you from making art, we’re empowered to make art, too.
Your idols are as flawed as you are.
Maybe they just hide it better.
Maybe there’s only one thing that separates them from the rest of us.
They’re willing to risk. And fail. And look stupid.
But they don’t wallow in it.
They learn. They grieve, quickly. Then they let it go and move on.
Failure isn’t fatal. It’s an excellent opportunity to grow. Think about it. When you hurt, you resolve never to feel that way for that reason ever again.
Or you give up and hide.
You’re better than that.
You have strength inside you don’t even know about. Pain is the key that unlocks it. That’s the silver lining in the darkest clouds in your life.
Now let’s look at some ways to exploit your imperfection in glorious ways.
You might think I’m insane for suggesting this.
Ernest Hemingway is credited with saying, “Write drunk, edit sober.” Whether or not that is true is debatable. And frankly, it doesn’t even matter.
And just to be clear, I’m not advocating that you become a raging alcoholic.
When people talk about writing drunk, they mean they want to throw off their inhibitions. Polite society has its rules. Some make sense. Some don’t. The idea here is to be free and leave the rough edges in.
Writing drunk is free writing. You lock yourself into your writing space. You turn off every conceivable distraction. Then you write your heart out, uncensored.
Then your internal critic gets to come in and sabotage you when you’re finished. (Edit sober.)
The problem is we give our internal critic as much free reign as we do our creativity. Or do we? I think we tend to hold back on both. Let’s face it. There are some things we just won’t do under any circumstance.
And that’s not necessarily bad.
It’s not the kind of edginess I’m talking about, either.
I learned about risk from my favorite Bible teacher. He teaches that a lot of us Christians are too hung up on rules (most of which we make up ourselves) or misunderstandings of the things we should and shouldn’t do.
Don’t we all struggle with that?
Here’s the answer. I’ve said it again and again, and I have to remind myself again and again.
If you wonder whether or not you should say something, you probably should.
You know what you shouldn’t say. What you wonder about is the gray stuff. The stuff that scares you. It’s what you want to say, but don’t have the guts for.
That’s the stuff that can change someone’s life. Maybe forever.
Are you willing to hold that back?
You really shouldn’t.
People might criticize you.
Welcome to life.
You don’t have to be an artist to be criticized. Just do something wrong. Or something someone disagrees with. Or be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or have someone misunderstand your intentions.
It’s bound to happen.
And if it hasn’t, you haven’t been getting out enough.
Criticism is part of life. Get used to it. If it’s useful, learn from it. If it’s not, ignore it.
You’re better off spending time figuring out how to make a difference than you are worrying about what others think about you.
When you make your corner of the world a better place, people will love you for it.
And isn’t it better to be hot or cold than lukewarm and dull?
Grab your pen and go.
Write before you go to work. Write at lunchtime. Polish your work with the jagged edges still intact.
Write something gloriously imperfect.
And don’t let your fear of a missed typo rob you of the opportunity to serve someone who desperately wants and needs your wisdom.
Submit to places that seem a little out of reach. If they say no, submit somewhere else.
If that fails, publish to your blog and start telling people about it. But don’t just tell them. Engage them in conversation. Get to know them. Find out how you can serve them.
Then go do it.
Preparation is great, but it’s no substitute for doing the work.
Learn as you go, not just before you go.
Write something today and share it in the responses. Let’s be gloriously imperfect together!