The Writing Process of a Former Perfectionist

Photo Vintage Typewriter 2 by David AsheOkay, maybe “former perfectionist” is more optimistic than accurate: I continue to struggle with perfectionism, sometimes daily. And my Inner Critic tends to resurface whenever I’m working on tasks for a client, especially a newsletter article or blog post.

Imagine my surprise when A CLIENT mentioned that writing always took her longer than planned. “I can’t write 500 words in less than three hours without sacrificing quality,” she said. It was obvious she too struggled with perfectionism. So I shared with her my process (below) which she now uses and loves.

The writing process of a former perfectionist:

1. Brainstorm and outline the article on notebook paper. This step assumes you’ve already done the necessary research for your piece. I find the physicality of writing with pen and paper stimulates the creative juices more than typing.

TIP: Don’t want to handwrite your outline? Use an audio recorder. Often during playback, new – sometimes even better – stuff will come to you.

2. Write the article. The most important part of this step is absolutely NO EDITING while you write. I mean it, none! This was the step my client thought might kill her because she would write a couple paragraphs then go back to the top and edit. Write a few more, scroll back up to the top, and edit the whole thing again. No wonder it took her hours and hours to write one article.

I cannot emphasize this enough: You MUST shut off your Inner Critic during the CREATIVE phase of writing – Steps 1 and 2 – or else risk crushing your “spark” and making the writing a chore rather than a passion. PLUS, you will most definitely double (or even triple) writing time if you re-read and edit as you write.

3. Take a break for at least 30 minutes.

TIP: For longer pieces, 500 words or more, I stay away for at least 2 hours.

4. Re-read the article. NO EDITING. Read through the entire piece as the audience would and make notes on the paper where you wrote your outline. The point is, you don’t want to activate your Inner Critic just yet.

5. Now you’re ready to edit. The method used for editing is a whole other discussion.

TIP: Set a time limit so you don’t over-edit. My max is 30 minutes for every 500 words.

6. After the first editing session, let the piece simmer for at least 24 hours no matter the length. My client would spend HOURS (in one session!) editing 500 words, hit publish, then come back the next day and still find “problems.” You need time away from the words so they regain their “freshness.”

7. The following day print out the piece and re-read it again. NO EDITING. If you spot a misspelled word or incorrect/missing punctuation feel free to mark up your paper, but save the hardcore editing for Step 8.

8. Make the last round of edits. Again, set a time limit to prevent over-editing.

9. Re-read the article for a third (and final) time but only for obvious mistakes in grammar or spelling. By this step the guts of your article should be relatively stable. If not, well, that’s another discussion.

10. Hit PUBLISH or SEND depending on the medium to which you’re submitting the piece. Consider the article set in stone at this point. It’s tempting to go back and re-read a recently published blog post “just one more time” but I guarantee if you do you will find “just one more thing” to correct, change, rearrange or tweak.

TIP: Use published material to improve future work. I encourage you to re-read old posts as a way to enhance your skills and inspire new topics. But you have to be strong enough to resist the Inner Critic, who will whisper ways you could edit what’s already been published.

Remember, my method may not work for everyone. And it doesn’t work for me when I write anything fiction – flash, short story, novella, etc. But I figured, seeing how I’m most definitely not the only former perfectionist in the world, this process might help others write posts or articles for their blog or website.

Photo credit: David Ashe

6 Replies to “The Writing Process of a Former Perfectionist

  1. “No editing while you write” would be a real killer for me. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself. I know many people write though that first draft without editing and it works well for them Who knows what I may try somewhere down the road. Nice to seeing you posting again!

    1. Well, Laura, I’m one of the converted so I know where you’re coming from 🙂

      Bottom line with anything is to do what works best for you. My clients don’t want to spend large chunks of their time writing one article and the above process helps them. And they all comment on how the “no editing while you write” is the biggest time saver.

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, I really appreciate it!

  2. Well, you know me: struggling almost-former perfectionist with my almost-former serial inner critic (hmmmm “serial killer”, “serial critic” it makes sense, right? – or am I getting punchy? I got words today! – and can barely see straight.)

    I like your system. I’m going to have to use that with my blog posts. I’m finally getting to the point where I can mostly write my WIP without editing. (I was even using your idea from months ago about writing with my eyes closed.) But the posts can take me hours, depending on the subject. I’ll let you know how it goes.

    1. Eileen,

      You used my advice and it helped? Sweet! That’s one of the greatest feelings in the world – to help someone else – you just made my day.

      My old mindset: I expected the words to match the story in my head as soon as they hit the page. So I’d type a few sentences or a paragraph, re-read the words, and hear, “Wait, I can do better than that. There’s a better way to say what I see.” But I didn’t realize as soon as I allowed those thoughts to surface and listened to the Inner Critic, I stopped the Muse. And she does not like being interrupted. Often I would struggle getting back to what I saw or felt or smelled. Or, worse, when the Muse spoke again it would be from a place approved by the Inner Critic based on his previous statements. Yuck.

      My new mindset: It’s okay for the words to be imperfect at first. And it actually helps. Allowing the story to flow through me as I see it, as the Muse feeds it to me, is more important than if that sentence would work better before the previous paragraph or read easier with less passive voice. Instead, capture the heart of what I’m feeling and hearing and seeing.

      It’s like doing anything where you get “in the zone.” The longer you are able to maintain focus without interruption, internal or external, the better you’ll see whatever it is you’re working on.

      My new mindset is still harder to apply in my fiction than non-fiction but I’m getting there. There’s a blogger (and published author) I follow who writes her first drafts straight through: no stopping, no re-reading, and definitely no editing. She writes 80,000 – 100,000 words in as little as three months. Now, she said she would never let anyone read those first drafts, but her story is there, ready to be polished.

        1. I know, right!

          After having been a lurker in online writing communities for a few years now, another thing I’ve learned is that there are about as many methods to madness as there are writers. So, like I say over and over again, what works best for that writer IS the best method for them, not necessarily the “right” way. But I do enjoy reading about the different styles.

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