Overcoming Perfectionism as a Freelance Writer

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Can I let you in on a little secret?

There are still times (more than I’d like to admit) that I don’t think my writing is “good enough.” I’m serious.

I call myself a professional writer (and I am, since I get paid for it), but like many of you, I sometimes delay writing client assignments or even blog posts like these because I get in my own head and question how good my writing really is.

(In fact if I’m totally honest, I just distracted myself with checking my email…)

Afterall, I don’t have a degree in English or Journalism. But that doesn’t mean one can’t succeed as a freelance writer.

Especially in today’s online marketplace.

By the way, it also doesn’t mean that without a degree one should get paid peanuts. So don’t settle for pennies on the dollar. I’d actually advise writing for free (aka guest posting) before aligning yourself with a content mill.

But we’re talking about overcoming perfectionism as a freelance writer here, not whether you have a journalism degree or how to avoid writing for peanuts.

So how does one do it? Well, today I’d like to offer you three practical steps that you can take to overcome feeling the need to be “perfect” as a freelance writer.

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Or not good enough to even start in the first place. Because you are! But we ALL can improve, so here’s how to go about it:

1. Write EVERY Day

I know this isn’t earth shattering advice, but it’s totally true that the more you do something, the better you get.

Our son started swimming in water wings when we arrived in South Padre Island, Texas just six weeks ago. He didn’t have a huge affinity to go underwater and was still pretty cautious, even though we do a fair amount of swimming and he’s been to swimming lessons in the past.

Yesterday (the day before we left SPI), he was swimming sans ANY flotation device, diving for things at the bottom of the pool and doing flips underwater. Crazy, right?!?

Yep, the same kid. Just six weeks later.

Do you know how he got there? He swam nearly every day of our six week stay (twice on some days).

He overcame his fear (and discomfort) of going underwater. His confidence in his swimming abilities skyrocketed. And he was able to take instruction on form and then implement it, because he wasn’t worried about drowning anymore.

The same is true for you as a new freelance writer.

You need to write every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a journal (using an actual pen, gasp!), brainstorming and writing blog posts for your own website (or just in Google docs) or actually writing commissioned guest post or articles for clients.

The point is, the more you do it, the better you’ll get. It really is that simple.

2. Read a LOT!

I’m not going to lie, I brought THREE books with me to Texas (plus what is on my Kindle app) and didn’t get through a single one!

I did read two and a half chapters of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life ← affiliate link by Mark Manson, a Christmas gift from my friend Carlos. I also plan to crack into that baby again today during our 16 HOUR drive to Springfield, MO (where I get to meet my girl Lisa Kimrey for the very first time in person!).

The fact of the matter is, that I don’t have that much time to read “just for fun” these days. I do read a lot of blog posts and online articles, however. And in my book that counts. 😉

In all actuality, as a freelance writer for the web, it’s probably better that I choose to read blogs and online publications over real books. Why? Because that’s what I write.

It makes sense then that I should read stuff that aligns with growing my online business and what I get paid to write about. And you should too!

So in addition to writing every day, you should read every day. Again, I’d focus on reading content that aligns with what you are (or want to) get paid to write about. And save the classics for the weekends. 🙂

Really short on time?

Try listening to podcasts or non-fiction books in your niche on Audible. Use this link to try Audible and get two FREE audiobooks ← affiliate link.

One of my favorite things to do is pair one of the two with my workouts – especially a long walk or run on the beach. I relistened to The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results ← affiliate link by Brad Press while walking the beach in SPI this year and it really helped me to focus and hone in on the most important aspects of my business for the rest of this year.

3. Break up Your Writing Process

Have you ever heard the advice: Write drunk, edit sober?

While I’m not actually advising you to write while intoxicated, the point is to write at one time and edit at another. Or, don’t try to edit AS you’re writing.

That’s a bad idea.

Why? Because it’ll take you 10x as long to write your first draft. And it’s way less fun, because you’re critiquing every little word and sentence.

Instead, consider breaking up your writing process and batching each step. For example…

My writing process looks like this:

  1. Brainstorm some post ideas and schedule them out on my editorial calendar.
  2. Rank blog posts and articles by due date.
  3. Let the one that’s due next percolate in my lil ol’ brain.
  4. Sit down to write the first draft of said post (while trying not to distract myself with email or social media).
  5. Walk away from it for a bit (or a full day if possible).
  6. Come back to read through and edit for the first time.
  7. Walk away again.
  8. Re-read and edit for a second time.
  9. Press publish or hit submit on an email firing the assignment off to my client.

That’s it!

Nine steps might seem like a lot, but the cool thing is you can batch tasks. Batching just means doing a bunch of similar tasks at the same time.

Here’s what batching might look like for writing:

  • Brainstorm a bunch of post ideas at once.
  • Do all of your scheduling/prioritizing at once.
  • Write a couple of different first drafts in one afternoon.
  • Edit a few articles on a separate day.
  • Schedule posts for publication (or turn in your assignments).
  • Pre-schedule social media posts sharing them (if they’re on your own blog and you know the urls anyway).

Make sense?

In the End, Just Ship It!

Don’t let yourself do more than three rounds of revisions to a blog post or client assignment before hitting publish or turning it it.

And with practice, you’ll probably be able to get down to just writing the first draft and one round of editing. Because you’ll get better.

By writing every day.

And reading a lot.

If it’s your goal to become a full-time freelance writer, you’ll need to. My friend Nicole agrees with me (and she consistently turns in 20-30 pieces EACH WEEK!).

So don’t spend too much time worrying if your grammar or syntax are perfect. Run spell check, have an eagle-eyed peer look over your first few articles or invest in a tool like Grammarly.

Because every extra hour that you spend “perfecting” a piece cuts down on your potential ROI (return on investment). Or another way to look at is that you’re giving yourself a pay decrease for spending too much time tweaking it.

Plus, your clients and editors will provide you with constructive feedback. And if they don’t, feel free to ask for it from time-to-time. Doing so will make you a better writer and ensure your clients are happy. Sounds like a win/win to me!

And if you’re like me, once you actually sit down to start writing, you remember how much fun it can be. How decent you actually are at it. And for a moment, you’re riding a “I just wrote a great effing article high!”

Until it’s time to start your next piece anyway. 😉

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11 thoughts on “Overcoming Perfectionism as a Freelance Writer”

  1. I think this is great advice! I’ve the tendency toward being a perfectionist and am just starting to explore freelance writing. I love writing but haven’t really done that much of it in a while (except for work and whatnot). Thanks for this great article!

  2. Great article, Gina! I agree, it’s all about shipping. What I did when I first started out was to hire an editor to look over my text. It cost a bit (although Grammarly has a great proofreading service that’s pretty affordable), but it made me realize that I don’t make too many mistakes if I proofread them myself. So as a result, I’m much more confident & don’t procrastinate on deadlines. 🙂

  3. This is great advice. I have a degree in English and still fall prey to perfectionism paralysis! The number 1 thing that’s helped me the most is writing every day. I don’t get as attached to individual articles when I’m creating 1-2 per day.

  4. Thank you. I am new to writing and find it very challenging. I appreciate your suggestions for breaking up the writing time, batching and the process of doing it every day. I think I will commit to doing some writing before I check my email since that is such a rabbit hole for me!!!
    Thanks!

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