As my cursor hovered over ‘publish’ I felt a surge of adrenaline and a twisting in my stomach like I’d eaten a bad seafood curry. Was it good enough? Should I read it one more time? Do I need to strengthen the argument with even more research? Is the headline-worthy of attention? I was right on a deadline so I winced and hit the button. It was done. But could it have been better? With everyone under pressure to get results, all the while working their way through never-ending to-do lists, when it comes to content: is good enough and published better than working on it until you reach that magic point of perfection?
We’d all love to believe that we are the most incredible writers on the planet, but readers don’t need, want, or expect Pulitzer prize-winning writing from brands. What they want is writing that is compelling, answers their questions and connects to their needs and emotions at a particular point in time.
There’s an art to delicately balancing your ego, using best practice and getting work finished and distributed on time. And I won’t pretend I’ve got it 100 per cent right, either – particularly when it comes to live mediums such as blogs, social media posts or (gulp!) press releases that are deadline-oriented and, once sent, almost impossible to retract.
Length plays a large part in the debate, as well. With SEO experts telling us that longer copy works better, we are often struggling to stop ourselves from stuffing blogs and web pages with complete waffle to make the word count, when we should be concentrating on writing purely useful information that both your reader and Google will take seriously.
Voltaire is quoted as saying “Perfect is the enemy of good”. If perfection is your aim, you could be working on the one blog post forever. To me, perfect is subjective but good can be quantified. Good is what works – as long as it is published. So, here’s the kicker: that piece of content may not be perfect in your, or even your manager’s, eyes; but if it’s converting customers or getting published in front of the right people then actually, it is perfect. Even if you don’t think it’s your best work.
The good news is, there are a few things you can do to make sending your not-perfect-but-certainly-adequate work out there less painful.
Five tips to help you publish something and feel okay about it
Do some research on current best practices and top tips for the type of content you are writing. While there are certain techniques and methods that you’ll always use, staying up to date on the latest tricks and tips will help you feel more confident in creating a great piece of content in a relatively short amount of time. Blogs and industry expert sites like Digital Drum, Copyblogger and the Content Marketing Institute are great resources.
Use a quick checklist to make sure you haven’t missed anything. The checklist should include everything you need to do to optimise the post for SEO (if appropriate); source, credit and resize images; pertinent points from your brand’s style guide; key messages that need to be included in your copy; key SEO keywords; and essential elements such as contact details, URLs or boilerplate lines.
Proofread, get someone else to proofread, and proofread again. Don’t let ‘good and published’ be an excuse for sloppy work that is filled with errors, meanders around the point, or omits obviously important information. When someone else proofreads the article, invite them to offer you feedback in the form of one single thing that would improve the article. That way you won’t feel overwhelmed when deciding which suggestions you should implement in your limited time or trying to implement them all.
Aim for the best you can produce, but don’t get paralysed. Send your baby out there. You can always do another post if you’ve forgotten something. Think of it as leaving them wanting more! This is particularly useful to remember if you hit publish and a kind reader or co-worker says: “What about x, y and z?” Thank them for their input and start planning a follow-up piece.
Set aside a time to review and update content that you feel isn’t working. This review could be scheduled for once a quarter or just once a year. If you can see from your analytics programmes, sales data and customer feedback (or lack thereof) that it isn’t having the impact you’d hoped, you can let your inner perfectionist loose for a few hours to go back and polish them up. Obviously, this isn’t possible with press-releases or one-off emails, however, make a list of content that is updatable or regularly printed as you create it so that you can refer back to it at review time.
Content writing is hard, even for the experts. Perfectionism and its paralysing effect on our ability to hit ‘send’ affects almost every writer I know. It’s nothing to be ashamed of – I believe that it’s a sure-fire sign that you care about what you do. Just don’t let it get in the way of getting the job done.