Have you ever struggled with perfectionism? How about as it relates to the website copy and marketing content you create? Maybe you find yourself constantly editing and rewriting, making it impossible to finish a piece, or worse, you don’t start writing at all and just stare at a blank page beating yourself up about it. Perfectionism in writing is something that all writers struggle with, and if I’m going to be honest with you, it’s a constant struggle…not something that happens from time to time.
Which is why it’s so difficult for non-writers to craft “perfect” copy.
But, what if I told you that your pursuit of perfection in writing is holding you back?
Perfectionism is something that we’re taught to aspire to. But at what cost? How hard are we meant to work, and when can someone ever call a draft complete and feel good about it?
Let’s be honest with each other. The pressure to create something flawless stifles creativity and makes it difficult to move forward.
On this episode of the Talk Copy to Me podcast, I’m talking perfectionism in writing and why nothing you write will ever be good enough. I’ll cover the three different stages of the writing process and why you should embrace each one for what it is and not try to do them all at once. By the end of this episode, you’ll learn three main takeaways: why perfectionism is detrimental to your writing, how to accept imperfection, and how to recognize and embrace the quality content you do create.
Here is what Erin want you to know about perfectionism in writing
What perfectionism is… and isn’t
How perfectionism manifests when it comes to marketing your business
How I realized I was actually a perfectionist when it’s a label I never would have used previously
Why writing marketing content is three distinct different processes
How to write without ideating or editing while writing
How to embrace the Shitty First Draft so you don’t get blocked while writing
Why the copy you write is never going to be good enough…for you
How you can find freedom in embracing good content, not aiming for perfect copy
Other podcast episodes and resources mentioned in this episodes:
Mindset coach Jessica Eley (who you need to know and absolutely need to hire if you haven’t yet!)
Anne Lamott’s book Bird By Bird and what I learned from her about the Shitty First Draft
I accidentally said in the episode that I have been writing professionally for 23 years. I obviously cannot do mental math quickly, because 23 years ago (at the time of this episode going live), I was still in high school, and the majority of writing I was doing at the time was notes to my friends and papers for my teachers. I’m not going to pretend that counts 😉
However, I did start writing professionally in college for both the school paper and their literary journal, so let’s say I’ve been a professional writer for over twenty years. Okay? 🤣
I also talked about some of the writing I’ve been doing for Descript, the audio and video editing tool
If you’re a podcaster, I sincerely hope you’ll check it out. There’s a couple articles in here for YouTube content creators, too!
Quotes about dealing with perfectionism in writing from Erin Ollila
“The real thing I’m talking about today is the idea that we as business owners, tend to be our own worst critics. We fight with perfectionism, and we don’t create the copy and the content that we need for our business. Because we are too frustrated with getting what’s in our head out in a way that is perfect.” – Erin Ollila
“We’ve created this dynamic where no matter, what we’re going to fail. We’re going to fail because we’re never going to live up to our own expectations.” – Erin Ollila
“As a person with ADHD, I have always worked really hard to achieve things, and in the achieving and in the doing, I’ve kind of created this baseline of adrenaline only for myself as an adult. And as I learn more about myself, I’ve learned that not everything that I do needs to be done perfectly.”
“We have to embrace the imperfection to get the success we’re hoping for.” – Erin Ollila
“There’s a reason that marketing specifically brings up all of these perfectionism monsters for each and every one of us. But what it boils down to very often is that people have a hard time taking what’s in their head and replicating that on the page.” – Erin Ollila
“So a quick overview: There’s the ideating, there’s the writing, and there’s the editing. And those are three completely different things. And our brain approaches those tasks very differently. But that’s not how we sit down to write our marketing marketing copy, is it? No, we sit down with maybe highlighters and a pen and a blank page. Or, like most people these days, with a Google Doc or something that’s going to allow us to get ideas out. And we expect to be able to do all three of those things at once. When we can’t. All that we’re doing is creating this self actualization. It’s ‘I told you so. I told you you couldn’t do it.’ We’re setting ourselves up for failure.” – Erin Ollila
“Because let’s be honest, your highest standards are probably a bullies standards—you’re bullying yourself. And [those standards are] not achievable. If you can accept that you’re not going to live up to those craptastic standards and you’re instead going to just simply do good work, you’re freeing yourself from the perfectionism trap.” – Erin Ollila
Learn more about your host, Erin Ollila
Erin Ollila believes in the power of words and how a message can inform – and even transform – its intended audience. She graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, and went on to co-found Spry, an award-winning online literary journal.
When Erin’s not helping her clients understand their website data or improve their website copy, you can catch her hosting the Talk Copy to Me podcast and guesting on shows such as Profit is a Choice, The Driven Woman Entrepreneur, Go Pitch Yourself, and Counsel Cast.
Stay in touch with Erin Ollila, SEO website copywriter:
Learn more about Erin’s VIP Day options if you’d like to learn more about how you can hire her to help you with your marketing
Here’s the transcript for episode 079 on perfectionism in writing
NOTE: This podcast was transcribed by an AI tool. Please forgive any typos or errors.
writing, perfectionism, work, business, clients, content, create, good, shitty first draft, editing, edit, perfectionist, copy, statements, friends, conversation, add, draft, sit, accept
Erin Ollila 00:04
Hey friends, welcome to the Top coffee to me podcast. Here we empower small business owners to step into the spotlight with their marketing and messaging. I’m your host, Erin Ollila. Let’s get started and talk copy. Nothing you write will ever be good enough. It’s true. I’m not here to badger you or bully you. But I really want you to sit with that statement. Nothing you write will ever be good enough. Now let’s finish that sentence. For who? The real question. The real thing I’m talking about today, is the idea that we as business owners, tend to be our own worst critics. We fight with perfectionism, and we don’t create the copy and the content that we need for our business. Because we are too frustrated with getting what’s in our head out in a way that is perfect. Because there’s no such thing as perfect. But yet we’ve created this dynamic where no matter what we’re going to fail, we’re going to fail because we’re never going to live up to our own expectations. So today, I hope you join me on this quick solo episode, to talk about why the things that you create are good enough, and the fact that we have to embrace the imperfection to get the success that we’re hoping for. So let’s first start by talking about the perfectionism trap in general. What is perfectionism? Had you asked me a few years ago, if I was a perfectionist, I would have said absolutely 100% not. Why? Because I’m pretty okay, half assing a lot of stuff in my life. It sounds silly, but it is completely true. As a person with ADHD, I have always worked really hard to achieve things and in achieving and in the doing, I’ve kind of created this baseline for myself of adrenaline as an adult. And as I learn more about myself, I’ve learned that not everything that I do needs to be done perfectly, which made me think that I was not a perfectionist. To me the key word and perfectionism was the word perfect. And I didn’t struggle with things being perfect. I accepted that some things would be a B plus effort, and I just kind of went on my way and accomplish them as I went. Until I realized that perfectionism sometimes isn’t exactly related to that word, perfect. Some point, I’d say midway in my business journey so far, I started to feel frustrated with myself, because I was hearing myself make statements to my close business friends that were just like some of the statements that clients made to me things like, oh, gosh, I hope no one looks at my website, I don’t have time to rewrite it. And I’m so embarrassed by what’s on it. Or no, I don’t email my list because I don’t really know exactly what to say to them. Or, yeah, I could write blog content, but I have too many ideas and no time to do it. Now honestly, I just made those up off the top of my head, but but some of the statements I was making was very similar to that. Lots of excuses about why I couldn’t do things in my business. But eventually as I self analyzed, which I would say most of us ADHD errs are good at self analyzation. Or maybe it’s just people with anxiety who are good at self analyser analyzation. I don’t really know. But just stay with me here. But as I analyze things, I realized that I the reason I said the word excuses before is not as a way to shame anyone in the audience who may be saying those things right now. But they were excuses for me because I knew there was something more that was going on under the surface. And in all honesty, there’s almost always something going on for my clients under the surface of these excuses. So before I jump into talking about how perfectionism manifests when it comes to content creation, I want to talk quickly about what perfectionism actually is because again, if you would have asked me this a few years ago, I would have said, I’m absolutely not a perfectionist. But I’ve realized that perfectionism manifests in many ways, for some people, it could be feeling like what you create is never good enough and kind of beating yourself up as you create and then aren’t proud of the results. For other people. It’s just built up self criticism. There’s also fear of judgment about what other people will think or say based on what you create. There’s self doubt, not knowing if you’re able to do something not really having built up That’s self confidence, which I guess actually kind of relates back to the self criticism. There’s also fear of failure. I see this a lot, I see that I see this when people are doing things like writing sales pages, or email pitches or kind of putting themselves on the line. There’s two ways that perfectionism plays out. It’s fear of failure, like I just said, but it’s also fear of success. And I remember the first time I heard this, I’m pretty positive, it was my friend, mindset coach, Jessica le, who had brought it up in a conversation somehow. And I just remember being like, Wait, whoa, let’s pause, rewind this track, you’re telling me that people are feeling like feel fear of succeeding, because I thought it was absolutely bananas. But the more I thought about it, and the more I kind of worked through on my own, the more I understood it as being a natural thing, especially in this online business world, you know, there are so many different levels of achievement and things that we have to work through as business owners. And I think it’s very valid that we can acknowledge if you want to acknowledge the fact that you may be afraid of succeeding, or you may be afraid of failing. And once I kind of looked at these different ways that perfectionism manifested, that’s where I was able to more see myself, the fact that I knew that I could write better than I was writing, if I wanted to do like a quick draft from my website, or the idea that I was only doing a quick draft of a blog from my website, which probably lead it back into things like fear of failure, or feel fear of success for putting myself out there. And this is where I started to understand that perfectionism was a different beast in and upon itself. And I saw how easily it played out for the clients who hired me for things like copy coaching. Which brings me back to the whole point of today’s episode, nothing you write is ever good enough. And there’s a reason for that, my friends, this is not something imaginary. I’m
Erin Ollila 06:57
not, I’m not trying to beat you up with this, this mean statement I keep making over and over again, there’s a reason that marketing specifically brings up all of these perfectionism monsters for each and every one of us. But what it boils down to very often is that people have a hard time taking what’s in their head and replicating that on the page. We all know our business is so well. And we have a really good grasp on why we’re doing what we’re doing, why we’re so passionate about we’re doing why we want to help the people we’re working with, what type of end goals that we want in our business, and how this all translates to things like the services we have or the offers we have. But it’s in our head, for right. So then, not only do we have to actually get it out of our head and on the page, but we need to say it well. And then we need to edit it. And then we need to not just say it well, but organize it in a marketing framework where the audience will be able to relate. And there’s just so much pressure to do all of that at once, when those activities are actually very distinctly different processes that our brains take. So a quick overview, there’s the ideating, there’s the writing, and there’s the editing. And those are three different things. And our brain approaches those tasks very differently. But that’s not how we sit down to write our marketing marketing copy, is it? No, we sit down with maybe highlighters and a pen and a blank page. Or like most people these days, you know, with a Google Doc or something, something that’s going to allow us to get ideas out. And we expect to be able to do all three of those things at once. When we can’t, all that we’re doing is kind of creating this self actualization. It’s that I told you, so I told you, you couldn’t do it. So we’re setting ourselves up for failure. We’re sitting down attempting to do extremely hard work at the same exact moment. And then just reminding ourselves that we cannot do it. But the point here, my friends, is we’re not supposed to do all all three of those things at once. I don’t know if I’ve made that point. Well, we’re not supposed to do all three at once. When I’m writing for my clients, I do not do all of the thinking, writing and editing at the same time. In fact, I do a heck of a lot more ruminating about the project than I actually do writing about the project. I think about the conversations I’ve had with my clients, I think about the way that they filled out the form and what was different between the way that they verbally explained it and wrote it down for some of the questions that I’m asking in those two different locations. I think about their business, their goals, I think about their clients, what’s driving their clients. I think a lot we Without touching a keyboard or a pen, then I sit down and I write an insanely shitty first draft. I think I’ve referenced this on other podcast when I was a guest. But one of my favorite books is Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird. I’ll link to that in the description. But one of the biggest points that I took from that book when I was in a writing class in college is the idea of the shitty first draft. And the shitty first draft is quite literally a draft that is complete crap. Sometimes when I’m writing, and this is even for my clients, I will write in the middle of a paragraph, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, or I will write, I’m doing a really bad job at making this point. Whatever it is, the reason that I’m doing that is so I can continue that writing part of my brain, the part that’s taking the idea that’s already formed, and removing it from my thought process, and at least, like committing it to the page. That’s the only part of writing that needs to happen at that time. So sure, it looks kind of crazy when you might look at a draft and be like, What the heck is Aaron doing here. And that is also why I always copy my documents into brand new ones before delivering them to clients. So they don’t see all my crazy writing. But I do it because I’ve learned over time, that getting stuck. And in the middle of writing and knowing that I didn’t say things the way I hope to, or dreamed of or wanted to, was like hitting a brick wall. And I don’t know about you guys. And you might not know this about me, but I’m actually pretty sure so I just cannot climb over a brick wall and get to the other side very easy. Like it doesn’t make a difference. If you have a trampoline for me to jump on and get over the wall, an actual gymnastics vault, a ladder, even I’m sure brick walls are awful. It takes you out of your element. And that’s what happens when it comes to writing, you are taken out of your element. So we’ve talked about the ideation phase, we’ve talked about the writing phase, let’s talk now about the editing phase. The editing phase is not a one and done part of writing, there’s the reviewing, then you’re back to ideating. Right, because you’re going to find gaps that you’ve missed, you’re also going to find places that you’ve overwritten. And you have to kind of spend your time in that thinking strategy brain before you can go back into the editing brain and take notes on what you need to fix. But then, in that editing section, once you’ve done the ideating, once you’ve done the reviewing, you have this mix of half writing and half editing, where you’re making adjustments on the work that you do. And quite often it takes multiple multiple rounds of that to get to the final product that you’re happy with. That’s how it works for me as a copywriter, even when I’m writing my clients work, and I need you to understand if you don’t know this about me already, I have been in the writing industry for over 23 years now. And that’s a mixed writing industry between Creative Writing, Publishing copywriting, I don’t even know what the heck else kind of writing I’m doing right now. But in different facets, it’s been over 23 years that I’ve been a writer, and I’ve had my own business now for seven or more years. I know what I’m doing. And if I know what I’m doing for my clients, and I still have the hefty weight of working through ideation, writing and editing. And it takes me all of this effort to get to an end place that I’m happy with, it’s going to take you as a non writer, even more work. And I’m not saying that to scare you. I’m actually kind of saying that to segue back to the main point that I’m trying to make here. And again, that main point is drumroll, nothing new, right will ever be good enough. I started writing for descript, a couple of months ago, maybe now and I am loving everything that I’ve written for them. I get to talk about podcasting, about podcast workflows, and analytics and all these things that really light me up and make me feel excited about sitting down and writing. And when I turn in my draft to my editor, I actually feel really good about what I’ve created. One, it’s usually built on the fact that I’m excited about what I’m writing about. And that interest and excitement makes me create better work, because I care about it, right. So that’s kind of the groundwork of why I’m turning in writing that I think is pretty good. And I will tell you, my editor is fabulous at her job because every time I look at things that she has edited in my work, I’m always like, yes, thank you for that edit, like it feels good to be edited by you because you’re keeping my voice and you’re keeping my points and my writing and making them a little better. So thank you But yet, even though I’m super excited about the work I’ve done and what I’ve created, and I love the end result, sometimes I reread my work. And I do this because I want to make sure I’m interlinking throughout the articles that I’m creating for SEO purposes, my friends, but sometimes when I read my work, I read it. And I think to myself, and actually, let me it’s not sometimes all the time when I read my work, even when I really like it, like working with the script right now and really enjoying the content. I read it, and I think I could have said that here. Or, Oh, I wish I had this point, this would have been such a good point to add this, or, Oh, it would have been so much stronger. If I interviewed someone and added their perspective to this section. Or, or, or, or right.
Erin Ollila 15:48
I mean, it doesn’t make a difference exactly what I’m beating myself up for. But I wanted to share that specific example. Because I really, truly enjoy writing for them, and the end result of my written content. And I’m still not 100% percent satisfied, because I want it to be better. So I’m glad I said that first, because the two main points that I’m trying to make are, if nothing that you write will ever be good enough, accepting that is such a freedom to create really good work. If you can accept that there’s no actual absolute perfect, and that you’re not going to be able to live up to your highest standards. Because let’s be honest, your higher standards are probably bullies standards, bullying yourself. And they’re not achievable. So if you can accept that you’re not going to live up to those craptastic standards. And you’re instead going to just simply do good work, you’re freeing yourself from the perfectionism trap, in the work that you produce is going to be great like maybe at first, you’re going to be a little nervous, maybe at first is not going to be your best work. But the work that you create will be really good if you stop trying to live up to an unrealistic expectation. And the reason that I talked about the script was another element of never being good enough is simply for the fact that when you write really good content, you want to keep making it better. You want to keep adding to things because a lot of the times nothing’s really ever finished, right? Think about a conversation you may have on the phone, which actually reminds me of my childhood, because I don’t walk around my house talking on the phone anymore. But I remember my mom would talk to her friends on the phone. And the conversation just kind of goes on and on and on. Kind of like when I go out with my girlfriends now for brunch or hanging out with personal friends. The conversation doesn’t stop, because there’s always something that can be added to it. You don’t get to this final resting place where you say like, Okay, well, we’ve talked about children’s toys for long enough that we’ll never have this conversation again. Or, okay, you know, Bottomless mimosas are a great thing. But since we’ve discussed it, we don’t need to bring it up again. No, right? That’s unnatural. Why don’t we look at our content that way? Why don’t we look at the content that we create, and just accept that. This is one iteration of the content. And if it’s something you own for meaning, if it’s your website, page copy, or if it’s content, like case studies and blog post, if it’s something you own, you have the power to update it when ever you want. So if you read it, and you think, oh gosh, I dropped the ball, because I really should have added this. Go at it. It’s that simple. Just go and add it. And don’t really put on your perfectionism hat and trying to make whatever you add perfect. Just go in there, write it quick and get the heck out of there. Or if you read something, and you think I’d love to have a quote from so and so maybe a guest expert, you heard speak at a conference, send that guest expert, your blog post and say, I would love to quote you in this and provide a backlink to your website, would you be willing to add to this section, right? Give that give them instructions make it easy for them. The point of the matter is, if you own it, you can adjust it, period. And even if you don’t own it, I think it really says a lot about us as business owners when we can grow into the maturity to understand that at least we’ve done the work. And you know, maybe I’m kind of projecting my own stuff onto you. And if that is the case, you know, ignore what I’m saying. But I’ve grown to say well, at least it’s out there. I made a very conscious effort to not edit throughout this podcast episode. And if you noticed, I have fumbled on my words many times. The one place I edited it was a one point where I took like a pause because I was like, oh shit, what was I actually saying in this episode? I have like, like, I’m sorry, what was the actually saying in this point? I don’t remember. So I’m gonna stop for a second and rewind and remember what I was actually trying to say. So that was it. That’s the one edit that I actually cut out of this edit episode as I’m recording. Because this is content, right? me speaking to you is content and me sharing this with you as content. And if it has helped you in any way, I bet you’re glad that I actually created it. I bet you’re not listening to me being like, oh, goodness, gracious, Aaron, get it together, like, Stop mumbling or learn how to pronounce your words. Because we all like to think other people are thinking a specific way, when in turn, what I have learned myself as a content creator, as well as a consumer of other people’s content, is that people just appreciate the work that you do. And stop mic drop period, by actually sharing your content. You’re helping people possibly, and obviously, not all businesses are meant to help people or educate people. By sharing your content, your maybe your entertaining them, whatever it is, if you never did it in the first place, they never would have had that. And they never would have grown themselves, or they never would have felt better, or they never would have learned something or they never would have laughed at a silly joke that you did. So if we can accept that the work that we do, will never be good enough for that mean, bullying perfectionist that lives inside of us. And we’re going to do our best besides that, then what’s going to happen is you’re going to feel a lot more competent to do the work and get it out there. So today, I just want to celebrate you and encourage you and just give you all the confidence you need to get out there and create because you deserve to share your genius with your audience. And I sincerely hope you feel motivated and inspired and prepared to go out and do that right now. All right, friends. Thanks for sticking with me throughout this episode. To get that rant out. I sincerely appreciate it. I will see you here next week with dama Jew who I am talking affiliate programs with and it is such a good episode. See you next week. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Top copy to me. If you enjoyed spending your time with me today. I would be so honored if you could subscribe to the show and leave a review. Want to continue the conversation. Head on over to Instagram and follow me at Erin Ollila. Until next time friends
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