Perfectionism

perfect bullseye

So, last week I wrote a post that prompted quite a reaction.

In it I said that it’s ok to be perfectish.

‘It doesn’t mean that it won’t be perfect,

just accept that it might not be.

And that’s totally fine.’

Most of the comments were positive, but some of you thought I meant to strive for perfectish, rather than perfect.

Hmmm.

Language sometimes gets in the way doesn’t it? So that post itself was perfectish. In most people’s eyes it said what it was supposed to say – seek excellence (perfectish) rather than perfection – while some people got the wrong end of the stick.

I still stand by my words:

People, setting yourself up for perfection is just setting yourself up for disappointment and broken dreams.

corgi with a stickNow, I always strive for excellence, but I never, ever promise perfection. I may deliver it, but I never promise it.

Why?

  • Clients may not have the budget to attain perfection.
  • Clients may not have the time to attain perfection.
  • Clients may not want to attain perfection (sometimes good enough is actually good enough).
  • Perfection is in the eye of the beholder.

A+ testimonial

As service providers we have to look after our clients and ourselves, and that means working within the constraints of what is set before us. So this week we’ll look at how to achieve excellence as both a service provider and a client.

If you are a service provider:

Train. Do lots of training – that could be in-house training if you’re an employee, or it could be self-funded freelance training. The more training you have, and the more experience you have, the better you will get. No one ever achieved excellence if they didn’t know what they were doing (and if anyone has I’m sure someone will tell me). Target your training to suit your needs and your sector. There’s no point training in editing fiction if you only ever, and will ever, edit academic journals. Don’t train just for the sake of it – your education should enhance your knowledge, give you new targeted knowledge or help you move in a new direction. Spend your training budget, and your time, wisely.

Talk to your clients. Simple really, but different clients have different needs and expectations. I’ve had clients who only wanted a very quick turnaround and a basic edit, and I’ve had some who needed the full bells and whistles. Respect your clients, talk to them and deliver what they want.

Utilise your computer. Learn macros and programs that will help you. The more you can do mechanically, the more time you have to take care of the human aspect and do the actual editing. Editors are not computers, and I’ve still to find a computer that can complete the human aspects of editing and proofreading.

perfect sign

If you are a client:

Utilise your computer. When you have completed your document, use the tools available to you. Use spellcheck, and use Hemmingway or Grammarly wisely. Set the language in your document to the correct one before you start.

Get it as perfect, in your eyes, as you can get it. The better it reads to you, the better it will read to your editor and the easier it will be to truly attain excellence. If the document is in a bad state to begin with, your editor may be able to get it as near damn perfect as possible but it will take longer and cost you more. Dispense with the fancy fonts, fancy formatting and layout – it’s much easier to read, and work on, 12pt Times New Roman, double-spaced with margins of 2cm on each side of an A4 page, or something similar (personally I hate TNR and always work in Calibri). The first thing your editor will do if you submit your document in Comic Sans, single-spaced with 0.5cm margins is spend time reformatting it. They may not even accept your commission if the document seems to be too badly set out (we’ve all had documents sent for an estimate/quote where a fancy layout has hidden text that just wasn’t ready for an edit). Make it as easy as possible for your editor to start work on the document.

Revisit the terminology. Are you looking for an editor or a proofreader? There is a difference, and asking for an edit, rather than a proofread, may not give you the results you are after. Proofreading comes at the very end, while editing is the middle bit (I tend to concentrate on the editing side of things).

Talk to your editor at the very start. You’re in this together, so set out your needs, wants and expectations. Give them your manuscript to appraise before work starts – let them see what they will be working on. How many editing passes do you want? An editor will usually include one or two in their estimate, anything more will cost you more. You’re on this journey together, it’s best to both start off on the right footing.

wisdom over perfectionism

Think editors should promise perfection? Don’t believe me when I say perfection is a silly thing to promise?

Some colleagues I respect have also written some wonderful articles on the issue:

Lisa Poisso on ‘Why did the editor miss errors in your book?’

Arlene Prunkl on When editors make mistakes

Kia Thomas on Editing and the rise of the machines

copywriter

Perfectionism is paralysing and can cause you to stall, constantly re-check your work, make you feel inadequate and can lead to serious health problems. As a freelance, the negative sides of perfectionism can become debilitating – when you work on your own there’s no one to tell you that you’re fine, that your work is damn perfect and that everyone feels the same (that’s why I highly recommend joining a professional society such as the SfEP). Mind you, there’s always someone out there to tell you that you’re rubbish.

As editors and proofreaders we have a tendency towards seeking perfection. But it’s dangerous and toxic, and society is riddled with an unhealthy attitude towards perfection. You can read an article on the BBC website that talks about the toxicity of perfectionism.

Even the Harvard Business Review and the World Health Organisation have noted the current trend for perfectionism that is destroying a generation

Yet perfection is an impossible goal. Those who become preoccupied with it inevitably set themselves up for failure and psychological turmoil. They become obsessed with winning the validation of others and demonstrating their worth through flawless performance after flawless performance.’

More information can also be found in an excellent pdf resource on how to overcome perfectionism by the Anxiety Disorders Association of British Columbia (AnxietyBC) website.

thumbs up

Perfectionism is something I’ve struggled with for years (and I’m not completely over it), so I’ve learned the hard way to understand when perfectish is ok.

Strive for excellence in your work, look after you clients (or your freelances if you are a client) and look after yourself. Surround yourself with like-minded people and accept that ‘perfect’ is subjective.

Be honest, authentic and human.

Don’t let perfectionism paralyse you, it will affect you and your business if you let it.

 

6 Comments on “Perfectionism

  1. Yes, yes and yes again. Every time I see an editor or proofreader promise perfection – and some even have it as part of their business name – I cringe. We’re human beings. Perfection in writing is a matter of opinion, not of objective provability. Strive for excellence by all means, and don’t sell your clients (or indeed yourself) short. But striving for perfection, as you’ve shown, can lead to very bad places. Striving for perfection can also tempt the editor or proofreader to trample all over the author’s voice and style and fix what ain’t broke.

    • Ohhhh, how many times have we seen examples of pedantic changes in the strive for perfection? The author’s voice should never, ever be compromised!

  2. “I may deliver it, but I never promise it.”
    Wow, those words hit me. What a great way to look at things. Awesome post!

  3. Great posts, Sara (this and the original one). Seeing things from both sides, as I do as a project manager and copy-editor, I agree that the idea of demanding perfection from any editorial professional (or indeed anybody in any situation) is unrealistic. No freelancer has ever sent me a 100% perfect piece of completed work, and that’s totally fine. As you say, aiming for excellence is one thing; expecting it is quite another!

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