Afraid to Send Out Your Queries and Articles? How to Beat Perfectionism So You Can Get More Work

This is an excerpt from the “Beating Procrastination” chapter of my e-book Get Unstuck! For Freelancers: A 6-Week Course to Boost Your Motivation, Organization, and Productivity—So You Can Do More Work in Less Time, Make More Money, and Enjoy the Freelance Lifestyle. I turned my popular Get Unstuck e-course into an e-book, so you can learn to become a productive writer at a fraction of the cost! I work part-time but earn a full-time income freelancing, and Get Unstuck is full of my best tips. This 64-page e-book includes six lessons that address:

1. Finding time to write
2. Organizing and automating your business
3. Creating a workspace that enhances your work
4. Developing a system of to-dos that works for you
5. Beating procrastination
6. Bashing perfectionism
7. Finding help
8. And more!

To get a copy of your own, please visit the e-books page. Now, on to the excerpt:

Procrastination Producer: You’re a perfectionist.

You can’t send out that query because you’re afraid it’s not perfect—so it sits on your hard drive, gathering virtual dust. Or you’re afraid your article or book won’t be perfect, so you suffer over every word and spend hours editing. Of course we all want to turn in our best work, but perfectionist tendencies can thwart our ability to make a living. Many writers end up procrastinating because they’re so afraid of not doing it “right” that they’d rather not do it at all.

I’m not a perfectionist, and it’s a good thing, because I’ve done some pretty stupid things: I’ve sent queries to the wrong magazine, sent (and sold!) queries with missing words in the first sentence, left blanks in articles where I meant to fill in information, and more. One time, I even turned in an article that my husband had edited—and I neglected to delete his snarky comment about one of the tips before sending it to my editor. And check it out: I make a fine living as a freelance writer. If I can do it without being perfect, so can you!

Here are my tips for beating perfectionism so you can get to work.

Remember, there is no perfect. Many writers are afraid to send out their stories, queries, articles, or proposals because they’re not “perfect” yet. Here’s something to think about: There’s no such thing as perfect. Every editor is a unique person with his own likes and dislikes. What will be perfect for one editor will be a nightmare for another. Since you can’t read your editors’ minds, the best you can do is—well, your best.

Value completion, not perfection. Perfection will lead to endless lists and a slew of incomplete projects. What matters most is your ability to start and complete a project.

Make mistakes. That’s right—I want you to purposely make a mistake. (It can’t be worse than the time I sent an e-mail to an editor titled “Query: What’s That Smell” Linda Formichelli.”) Do something like, say, include a typo in an e-mail to an editor. And view the results. Chances are, no one will even notice—and if they do notice, they most likely won’t care. Making mistakes this way will also help you get used to and overcome the discomfort you feel when you’re less than perfect.

Challenge perfectionist thoughts. Here’s a technique I learned while going through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for anxiety: Pretend you’re a trial lawyer, and when a perfectionist thought pops up—say, “If I don’t get this article perfect the editor will never hire me again and my career is in the toilet””examine the evidence. Have you ever made a mistake in an article” Probably yes. Did your career die? Most likely, no. Shift from perfectionist thinking to a more realistic thinking.

Remember, no one cares. In a study a couple of years ago, researchers showed photos of people claiming to be having “bad hair days” and “good hair days” to subjects. The subjects couldn’t tell the difference between good and bad hair days in the photos! What this means is that we’re more critical of ourselves than others are—and people don’t notice us the way we think they do. (That typo I asked you to make isn’t nearly as glaring to the editor as it is to you.) For more encouragement, listen to this: People generally aren’t thinking about you; they’re thinking about themselves—just like you are. Doesn’t that give you a delicious sense of freedom? After all, why bother trying to be perfect if no one notices anyway?

For 63 more pages of goodness, please check out the e-book Get Unstuck! For Freelancers. [lf]

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14 comments… add one
  • Hi Linda:

    One of the things I’ve learned since going full-time with my busisness are two key things:

    1) I’m not perfect, and will make mistakes — and I have
    2) Editors aren’t perfect, and will make mistakes — and they have

    Knowing the above has taught me to be more patient and tolerant of both myself and them.

    I also think it’s key here that you’ve personally pointed out the errors you’ve made. I kid you not when I say (and I mean this as a compliment) that, when recognized as an upper tier freelancer, you pointing out your occasional errors — something no one is immune from — makes those a rung lower realize that, “Hey, you know what, this is your career and mistakes do happen. You can and will succeed if you keep pushing.”

    I appreciate your words, and your gifts.


    • Thanks for your insights! And believe me, I’m sure I’ve made even more errors than I mentioned here. 🙂

  • Your “smelly” subject line is hilarious, Linda! Thanks for being honest enough to share that with us. Just this past week on Friday I hurriedly emailed back an editor, typing “char” instead of “chat.” Oops! I worried that she wouldn’t want to work with me after that, but it never came up and she promptly sent a contract for the article we’d discussed.

    • So the editor thought you wanted to char her, and still gave you the assignment? 🙂 See, people — we’re all human!

  • Great post! As a daily reporter I couldn’t worry about perfectionism because I was always on deadline, but with queries you’re really not on anyone’s deadline but your own, and I’ve learned in that world it’s very easy to keep pushing it back to tweak things a bit more.

    Oh, and your “smell” subject line doesn’t have to be a negative reflection on you. “What’s that smell?” could be “What’s that delightful combination of gardenias and lilacs?” 🙂

  • Good point about the deadlines. And thanks for the positive interpretation of my e-mail subject line! Too bad the query was about B.O. 🙂

  • Such spot-on reminders and techniques for perfectionists, Linda! As a proofreader, I always thought my perfectionist tendencies were a “good” thing, until I realized that they were holding me back in terms of expanding my interests (namely, writing). I was concerned that any writing mistake that I made would tarnish my proofreader reputation. Not true.

    I’ve learned so much more about writing and proofreading since I got over my false belief. Similar to “challenge perfectionist thoughts,” I love the advice, “Don’t believe everything you think.” Your mind can play tricks on you.

  • The tip about typos is true up to a point, but there are certain typos you should never, never make, please! I was a judge for a writing contest recently, and several people apparently didn’t know the difference between there, their, and they’re. I didn’t disqualify anyone just for that, but it left a bad taste in my mouth and probably did affect the way I perceived the rest of their writing. The same goes for the ‘yours’ and the ‘toos’.

    • Dionne, the you’re/your, they’re/their, etc. mix-ups are not typos — they’re straight-out errors. A typo would be if I signed my name “Libda,” which I sometimes accidentally do.

  • On the perfection front, I wish people could remember that businesses aren’t perfect either. When I read a review on yelp or other similar site describing the worst waitress ever or that the soup was ice cold, I want to tell the reviewer “Get a Life!” I’m not perfect, you’re not perfect and that business employs imperfect people.

    Sorry for that semi-off topic rant, but I’m a crusader on this topic. I wish I could be as forgiving of myself as I am to others.

  • Another great article. Thanks to you and all the incredible readers who are willing to share their insight.

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