The Perfection Paradox

The Perfection Paradox

I recently listened to a motivating, inspiring podcast where the guest shared this advice: Be OK with B- work.

B MINUS.

That stopped me in my tracks.

I’m not a B- person. I suspect you’re not either. We strive for that A every time, right?

After my initial shock wore off, I thought it through.

What does B- work look like?

Well, it’s a passing grade. It’s not perfect, but it’s not a failure either. And, I think more importantly to her point, it’s done. Taking that a step further, it’s done in a reasonable amount of time.

That’s the thing with striving for that A every single time: Sometimes the work doesn’t get done because, well, it’s not perfect and if it’s not perfect, what’s the point? Why put it out there? Or, it takes so long to make it perfect that the amount of time isn’t commensurate with the income generated.

I get it. I fall victim to this in a number of ways. For me, it’s not usually about completing the work but rather putting the work out there.

I think, “Well, I can keep tinkering. It’s not exactly how I want it, so I won’t send this pitch yet. I’ll keep working on it.” Then time passes and the pitch never goes out.

We want to produce great work.

No, we want to produce perfect work.

The problem, though, is that in that striving toward perfection, do you miss opportunities to complete good work?

But you can choose between the two disparate sides (hence the paradox): Either nothing you ever produce is perfect or everything you produce is perfect (just as it is).

It’s a mindset shift that can take you from paralysis to publication.

There’s a related quote that comes to mind:

“Each of you is perfect the way you are … and you can use a little improvement.” — Shunryu Suzuki

Maybe that’s the way to approach our work, as long as that “little improvement” doesn’t become an attempt at striding toward perfection but rather getting good work to completion.

I’m not sure I’d ever be OK with B- work, to be honest. Maybe A- or B+ work?

But, at the end of the day, B- work helps more people than incomplete, never-published-because-it’s-not-perfect work. 

Does grammar matter anymore? Does it matter online?

Does grammar matter anymore_ Does it matter online_

Yes. Of course, grammar matters online.

Why?

As a self-professed grammar nerd, I say that not only because I adore the structure of grammar (I desperately need creative constraints when I’m writing, and the rules of grammar provide that… but that’s another post for another day) but because grammar helps your readers, well, read.

I’m not one to advocate strict adherence to every fussy rule in the style book.

Voice matters, and sometimes your voice requires you to know the rules and then let ’em go. <— see that ’em there? Letting a rule go, yo!

However, your readers need to understand the intent of your work. You need to convey your ideas clearly and succinctly, and grammar helps organize your words to do just that.

You write to be understood. The rules and structure of grammar allow that to happen.

When you write online, you write for two audiences: your readers and robots.

So, everything I mentioned above helps your readers. But when it comes to robots, grammar matters even more.

Robots can’t understand nuance. They can’t interpret data and devise their own conclusions. What the can do is scan for patterns.

Grammar enables that pattern recognition to happen to your benefit.

If the Google bots can’t figure out what your post is about with a scan, or if your works is riddled with misspellings, you won’t appear in search. It’s as simple as that.

I actually Googled this question–does grammar matter anymore?–and found a host of pearl-clutching searches:

  • Does grammar matter in the workplace?
  • Do schools teach grammar anymore?
  • Does grammar really matter?
  • Does grammar still matter?
  • Grammar in today’s society

And so on.

The bottom line: Grammar evolves. Language use evolves. And people have been griping about the decline of grammar forever.

My husband got me a pocket-sized, 80-page book called Faulty Diction. The book was published in 1915 and opens with this line:

The design of this booklet is to aid those who consult it in the correction of many of the faults of speech and writing common among English-speaking people of some, or even considerable, education.

The book includes entries that include things like (I’m paraphrasing) incorrect pronoun usage is inexcusable among the educated and describes the word “lots” as “a slipshod colloquialism for ‘a great many.'” HA!

But even this grumpy, fussy text agrees:

It is further to be noted that while the colloquial, technical, or poetical use of words and forms does not justify their general employment in prose literature, and especially in literature in the stricter sense, it is still true that such expressions may be good and indispensable in their own proper spheres, and that many of them are gradually elevated in the process of use until they become essential parts of the language of the higher literature.

(You guys, I love this book so much.)

Language evolves. Grammar evolves.

Know the rules so you can figure out how to use them artfully.

Grammar still matters, and it always will–even if it doesn’t look the same as the rules from 1915 or the rules of today.

BTW, if you want some of my grammar tips for bloggers, check out my ebook Authentic Blogging, which has an entire section dedicated to the topic!

5 Tips for Brainstorming

My work plate has been piled high with new projects.

I love starting new projects because I love the opportunity to brainstorm – it often leads me to fresh ideas to pitch to other outlets, too!

Even though I love the opportunity to brainstorm, I don’t always love brainstorming itself.

Let me explain…

5 Tips for brainstorming tons of fresh ideas... even when you're not in a creative mindset!

I get super-duper pumped about new ideas. It’s invigorating to come up with fresh concepts. However, if you’ve been doing the same thing for a while – say, working with one client or on one project type – getting out of a creative rut can be tough. It takes a mindset shift from that client or that project into a new way of thinking.

But, of course, it can be done! And once you get going, it’s rewarding and refreshing to generate a ton of new ideas.

If you’re in a similar spot, here are my top five tips for brainstorming new ideas (note: they can apply to absolutely any type of project or industry):

  1. Leave your space. Go somewhere new. Brainstorm in a novel environment to come up with novel ideas. (BTW, my public library has ahhhhhhmazing work rooms you can “check out” for free!)
  2. Pick up a magazine outside your industry and flip through everything, including the ads, with a pen and paper nearby. Jot down anything that catches your fancy.
  3. If you’re a writer, doodle. If you’re an artist, write. Don’t worry about good or bad, just let your hand flow with a skill that doesn’t come naturally.
  4. Stare out a window. Turn on wordless tunes. (I love the “Deep Focus” playlist on Spotify for this.) Let your mind wander.
  5. Go for a walk. Walk out your door with a specific idea–what’s the perfect , click-worthy headline for this blog post? is there a fresh angle for this piece on a tried-and-true subject? how do I cover this topic in a way that would surprise my readers?–and focus on that idea as you walk. Your mind will drift. That’s OK. There’s some kind of magic to letting your subconscious work out a problem, but that only happens if it knows what problem to work out!

You’ll probably notice that there’s a consistent pattern among these five ideas: That is, do something differently. The very best way to come up with your very best ideas is to step away from your usual, mundane routine and try something new.

No, it’s not always comfortable. But that’s the whole point!

So, try something new. Try something unusual. Try something outside your norm to brainstorm the very best ideas! 

Here’s the thing about time…

Time Management and Mindsets

I recently had the opportunity to chat with life coach Arienne Gorlach, and holy smokes. She just drilled right down into the core of what’s been holding me back. I left our session feeling enriched and empowered and inspired to take back my time.

See, here’s the thing about time: You get 168 hours each week. All of us do–even Oprah and Reese Witherspoon and Barack Obama and Beyonce, etc. What we do with those hours is what sets us apart.

My mindset around time–before I spoke with Arienne–was THERE’S NEVER ENOUGH! How can I be a good mom, wife, employee, business owner, and myself with so much to do and so little time in which to do it?!?! I felt like I wasn’t doing a good job at any one thing, but rather halfsies on all.

Clearly, that’s not positive. It’s not productive. It’s not sustainable.

So, from that convo, here’s my new strategy that has been ahhhhhmazing so far, and I wanted to share it with you in case it would help:

  1. How do I want to feel at the end of each day? At the end of each week? This idea came from Arienne and it’s all about determining to-dos not based on some arbitrary task or project list, but rather how you want to feel when you exhaust those 168 hours.
  2. What do I need to do today/this week in order to feel how I want to feel? What specific projects do I need to complete in each role (mom, wife, employee, person) to achieve those feelings? More importantly–for me, anyway–what should I not do?
  3. Track the reality of my time–projected versus actual. Arienne suggested a spreadsheet divided into the 168 hours. I’m a pen-and-paper gal, so I’m just using the left side of my daily agenda. Observe what works and what doesn’t; adjust for tomorrow or next week.

I’m a couple weeks in, and this shift has revolutionized how I spend my time. I hadn’t been to the track at the gym in months, and I’ve been twice a week since! Go, me!

All that said, if you’re looking for someone to talk you through similar issues, I highly recommend hiring Arienne. One conversation with her shifted my entire mindset, and I’m so grateful! And productive!

How to Hone Your Writing Voice in 3 Simple Steps

 

The term “writing voice” is bandied about but rarely defined. Your voice, though, will make you stand out from the crowd of other writers and bloggers.How to Hone Your Writing Voice in 3 Simple Steps

So, how are you supposed to hone your writing voice if you’re not sure what–or where–it is?

For starters, I like to think of my writing voice as the sound of my work. If you were having a conversation about your article/book/post, think about what you would say and how you would say it. You want to capture the sound of that discussion in your written work.

I admit: It’s often easier said than done, especially while you’re still refining your craft. Why? We all want to sound funny, witty, intelligent, wry, whatever, and if you’re trying to force that to emerge in your work, you lose your natural voice. But you don’t have to! It took me a long time to get comfortable with my voice, and here’s what’s helped.

3 steps to hone your writing voice:

  1. Think out loud. It drives my husband crazy, but it works. When you are in the early stages of a project, you’re brainstorming an idea, or you’re stuck for the right phrase to round out a paragraph, start thinking out loud. Talk to yourself or to your dog or to your spirit guide or to whomever you want to imagine. When you think out loud, you will hear what sounds truly like you and what sounds forced. Delete the forced stuff.
  2. Knock out that shitty first draft. I’m sure you’re familiar with the “Shitty First Drafts” chapter in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. If not, or if it’s been a while, the concept is simple. Just get words down on paper (well, word processor), and deal with the mess later. If you second guess every word you type, not only will you slow yourself down, but you’ll also interrupt your natural thought process, your stream-of-consciousness. Sure, it won’t be polished, but it’ll be finished – and, most likely, it’ll be a pretty darn accurate representation of what you really wanted to say. It just needs to be gussied up a bit.
  3. Proofread out loud. Your neighbors might start to think you’re losing it if you’re talking through all your pre-writing (point #1) and then again in the editing phase, but trust me. This is the single most effective thing you can do to refine your voice. When you read your work out loud, not only will you catch all your little glitchy errors and grammar mistakes, but you will hear–actually hear–when your work doesn’t sound like you. Then, you can focus your editing efforts on those places to generate a far more solid second draft.

I recommend proofing everything out loud. It makes a huge difference in the quality of your writing, and it will help you refine your writing voice until it really, truly sounds like you.

If you want to dig into your authentic voice, check out my comprehensive, actionable ebook, Authentic Blogging. It’s full of step-by-step instructions, worksheets, and tricks to help you find and refine your genuine voice, grow your blog, and build a loyal audience!

Happy New Year!

I hope your 2015 is off to a wonderful start!

Mine sure is. I love all the freshness, the newness of January 1: a new calendar, a new blog planner, new goals and dreams and aspirations, a new journal, and a renewed commitment to working hard.

At the beginning of the year, I always set a single word as my intention for the year ahead. For 2015, I was torn between “authenticity” and “inspired.” Ultimately, I chose “inspired” because I think being/working/feeling inspired informs authenticity.

I may be the only person to say this, but I’m so ready for the holiday break to be over so I can hit the ground running next week!

How about you? Do you set a word for the year? If so, tweet with me! I’d love to exchange ideas and, of course, inspiration!

Will work for…? (The answer is NOT exposure!)

You’re looking for a mechanic. You call around and find one who is nearby, highly recommended, and has an opening in his schedule. So, you give him a call.

“I need a mechanic,” you say. “It’s sort of urgent because my car is making a funny noise, and I need the tires rotated and oil changed.” He schedules you an appointment.

You drive to the mechanic and he presents you with an estimate of what the work will cost. “Oh, no,” you say. “I don’t pay in cash. I pay in exposure! I’ll tell all my friends on Facebook about how awesome you are, and I’ll live tweet my appointment!”

Does the mechanic work on your car?

Of course not. And, truthfully, no one would ever consider even making that offer to a mechanic! Or a dentist. Or a cashier or personal trainer or stylist.

Why?

Because that’s how those people earn their living, of course! They need to pay their rent, buy groceries, heat their homes, feed their pets, and so on. So, obviously, you wouldn’t offer to pay them in exposure, and obviously they would never accept to be paid in exposure.

Yet, creative professionals receive that offer frequently.

In fact, there are tons of splashy articles and videos online of writers spectacularly declining said offers… and publications’ reactions of shock and horror.

Just a few weeks ago I received a pitch to contribute articles to a popular website in exchange for said website sharing my work across their vibrant Twitter channel. As soon as Twitter followers pay my rent, sure!

Until then, I’ll work for money. Just like everyone else.

Can you teach creativity?

Have you heard of Coursera.org?

Oh, man. It’s fantastic. You can take college-level courses from universities around the world… for free!

As soon as I discovered it, I signed up for two classes right away: Animal Behavior (of course!) and Creativity, Innovation, and Change.

The classes overlap with each other, so in addition to my regular workload, the blog, and the dogs, things have been a little busy. But oh-so-worthwhile!

In the first week of the Creativity course, the instructors linked to a YouTube video that I knew was worth sharing. Take a few minutes to watch – and think about – the question: Can you teach creativity?