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.

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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.

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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.

 

Perfectish – A User’s Guide

 

cute kitten in a pot

Right, guys.

Let’s get one thing straight.

Perfect doesn’t exist.

There is no such thing as perfect.

What is perfect to one person’s eyes, may not be to another’s.

peering through a magnifying glass

With writing, perfect is even more of a personal point of view.

Your spelling, grammar, syntax and story may be perfect to you, but Penny Pickall from Pickering will still find something to knock it off the perfect pedestal.

Word choice, spelling variations and formatting will all come into play to make perfect a pipe dream.

cups, trophies and winners

So let’s ditch perfect, and all the negative connotations for anything less than perfect.

If we don’t, we’ll all end up frustrated and feeling rubbish.

Instead, why don’t we concentrate on ‘as good as we can get it within the constraints of society’?

What word should we use? Adequate won’t cut it – who wants ‘adequate’?

How about perfectish? Let’s all strive for perfectish. It’s not as perfect as ‘perfect’ but it’s better than adequate, or good enough, or just about right.

Perfectish, getting it just about perfect

Per-fect-tish ­ – the art of getting it just about right. As good as it can be.

 

When we strive for perfectish, we know that some things may slip through, but hey, that’s ok, no-one’s perfect. It can be applied to all aspects of life and it won’t leave us frustrated with ourselves.

Last weekend I handed in some coursework. I’d strived for perfection, but knew in my heart it was a bit rubbish. Hey, I had a gig to go to (and bloody marvellous it was too – thank you All Time Low, you rock) so I decided that I’d try my very best and live with it. I ditched perfect and decided perfectish was about as good as I could manage. I handed in my coursework, (which I’d actually taken time off work to fit in, because, hey, gig time) and accepting the lower edge of perfectish I was happy that I’d done my best. No guilt, no second-guessing. Just acceptance and I moved on (or rather down, to Glasgow, for the gig).

apple on a stack of books

The other day I ate an apple. It was beautiful, like a Wicked Queen had plucked it from a perfect tree, nourished by the perfect food and shaped just … perfectly. And it tasted of nothing.

Today I had a pear, it was knobbly, ugly-looking and slightly bashed. It tasted wonderful, just like a pear should taste. Sure it wouldn’t win any orchard fruit beauty contests, but it tasted like a pear, and that’s what matters.

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

 

So, when it comes to trying to get everything perfect, just give yourself and others some slack, and settle for perfectish instead.

It doesn’t mean that it won’t be perfect, just accept that it might not be. And that’s totally fine.

target, dartboard bullseye

So if you are a writer looking for perfection, a business wanting to attract customers or a student wanting to get your best grade, here’s how you can get things as near to damn perfect as possible:

  • Do your homework – what does perfectish mean to you? What leeway are you willing to accept?
  • Make sure your base is looking great (this doesn’t just apply to make-up – with anything, if you build on solid foundations you’re going to get a better result).
  • Get it as right as possible the first time. The more revisions there are, the more you pick, the more chance there is of introducing errors.
  • When you bring in the professionals, trust that they are professionals and let them do their job.
  • Remember you are seeking perfectish, not perfect. You won’t get perfect, so put it out of your mind. If you get damn near perfect, that’s still perfectish, and that’s amazing.
  • Know when things are perfectish enough to call it a day. The more you push, the more you seek perfection and the less likely you are to get it.

 

don't panic

Remember, ‘perfect’ doesn’t always mean flawless and free from errors. Even the Oxford Dictionary has the definition:

‘Having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics;

as good as it is possible to be’

 

So let’s ditch ‘perfect’ and strive for ‘perfectish’.

Get things just about right. As good as they can be.

Then move on.

Get your life back and be proud of your achievements rather than worry about what you can’t see.

Why I’m proud to be a member of the SfEP

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It’s that time of year again.

My annual membership of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) is due.

I have to admit it’s a time I dread. Being an independent consultant means that I have to account for every penny and no matter how diligent I am, I never manage to put money aside for my memberships. There are always other bills to pay, and memberships always get forgotten.

Last year, when I attended the annual conference and AGM, I was one of those who voted for an increase in membership fees, and I will admit to having to think long and hard about it. No one likes increasing their fees, and that includes societies, but every now and then you have to take stock and see what everyone is getting for their money. This is one of the reasons I increase my fees, and this year will be no exception. I increase my fees because the cost of living is rising, but so is my experience and value to my clients. I undertake regular training, keep up to date, hone my abilities and work hard for my clients – to undervalue myself would be wrong.

And the SfEP are no different. The costs are rising, but so is the value of being a member of the society. I’m proud to be a Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders.

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Here’s why:

  • The SfEP has a wonderful online forum. This, to me, is invaluable. Being in a remote part of the country, it can be difficult to find the time and money to get to networking opportunities outside of the Highlands, and the forum is a fantastic resource. Most other societies I’ve joined in the past relied on email lists, and still do. These, while being a good resource, mean that conversations are stilted (especially with daily digests of posts), quite often cliques build up and there are snarky comments and bitching. This, to my knowledge, has never happened on the SfEP forum. Instead, it’s a safe place where newbies and seasoned professionals come together for mutual support, to get questions answered, and just to talk. If you have a query you can be damn sure that there’s someone there to help – the members come from all subject specialisms and if no one can help, they usually know where to go outside of the Society. The forums allow us all to talk without boundaries – including our overseas members.
  • The local meetings are great for networking. Although I can’t make it to my ‘local’ meetings very often (due to them being 5 hours away – the joys of remote living!) I know from the ones I have attended that they are friendly, informative and a great way to network and talk face-to-face. Newbies shouldn’t be scared about attending as they’re the same friendly faces that often appear at conference.
  • The conference is second to none. I was extremely apprehensive before my first conference, but as it was ‘local’ to me I felt it was a great way to break myself in (ok, it was in York, which meant I could go home for a week on either side of going to conference). It turned out to be the best conference I’d ever been to (and I’d been to a few), and is now a regular feature of my autumn. Mixing workshops and seminars with extremely friendly editorial types over a weekend is something I now look forward to. This in itself is worth the membership fee.
  • Being a member proves that I’m serious about my job. I’m a Professional Member, which means that I’ve had to prove that I’m good at what I do. I have trained to a high standard. Clients can be secure that they are hiring a trained professional, not someone who was good at English at school and can ‘edit’ your document as a hobby.
  • I’m in the directory. Another great benefit for me is that I am in the SfEP directory. This is a great place for clients to find the editor or proofreader who will best fit their job specifications. If you need a professional, bookmark the site – there’s no need to trawl the internet, this should be your ‘go to’ place when you need editorial help in the UK.
  • The society has great training courses. Their classroom-based workshops are great, but I’m happy that there are more courses delivered online, allowing me to learn at home. I’m about to apply to do another one, just as a way of brushing up and refreshing my skills. I think training is an important part of my professional development, which is why I am constantly learning.
  • The society has member benefits. Whether you use them or not, there are member benefits that range from discounts on books and stationery to discounts off courses and legal advice.
  • The society is a comfort blanket. It’s good to know as a freelancer that I’m not alone. There is always someone there to talk to, whether it’s the lovely office staff, the directors or the members on the forum. When you are a member of the SfEP you are never alone.
  • I’ve made some wonderful friends. Despite how brilliant all the other points are, the best thing about the SfEP is that I’ve made some real friends. My favourite part of the year is finding my way around the conference and seeking out my editorial pals. There’s nothing quite like spotting a friendly face and heading off to the bar for a catch up. Without the Society I would never have met all the wonderful people I’m proud to call friends. Ok it’s cheesy, but it’s true. That first conference in York, I thought I’d sit in a corner as usual, watch what was going on, eventually figure out where the cliques were and see who was approachable. Instead I slotted in, was welcomed with open arms and ended up feeling like I’d found the best group of people in the world.

So, in the next few days I’m going to scrape together my membership dues (and the money for my next online course) and I’ll be happy to do so. I’ll be secure in the knowledge that for another year I’ll be part of a community that takes itself seriously, and promotes professionalism, but is welcoming, knowledgeable and approachable. It’s a society that I’m proud to be a member of.