When Are You Done Editing? A 5-Point Blueprint for (Recovering) Perfectionists

“How do you know when you’re done editing?” is one of the most common questions I get asked from conscientious writers.

When you want to do a good job, you tend to obsess over your work. Since it needs to be “perfect,” it never quite seems finished.

So, careful and thoughtful writers have to develop another skill. They have to learn to let go.

Redefine “perfect”

To get past the goal of perfection, accept that your writing is never going to be perfect.

  • There’s often something you’ll forget to include. (That isn’t always a bad thing, because you want to start a dialogue with your audience, don’t you?)
  • Your knowledge will grow as you continue to learn.
  • You’ll have more to say on the subject as time goes on.

Good enough” not only feels a lot better, it’s actually an attainable goal.

As I mentioned in No Audience? The First Step for New Writers, you can create new content later with your additional thoughts or update your original content if it’s crucial that an old post has certain details you didn’t include when you first published it.

“Perfect” now becomes “good enough to publish this week.”

I say “this week” because if you’re spending more than a week on a piece of content, you’re likely stalling, which will prevent you from becoming a prolific and potent writer.

To help you aim for “this week’s version of perfect,” here’s a five-point blueprint of items to double-check after you’ve finished your standard editing and proofreading process.

Then you’ll know it’s time to let your writing go.

Check #1: Paragraphs

When you’re done editing and proofreading, you’re extremely familiar with your writing on a micro level.

It’s almost like you’ve had blinders on.

Before you publish, look at your content one more time on a macro level to see it from a big-picture perspective.

Start with your paragraphs:

These last-minute optimizations will boost your confidence about publishing.

Check #2: Sentences

Your sentences may be in tip-top shape individually, but how do they look next to each other?

  • Is a certain word overused?
  • Do multiple paragraphs begin with the same word?
  • Are they engaging, with descriptive language?

Each sentence is an opportunity to offer your site visitor an incentive to keep reading.

Check #3: Grammar

You don’t always have to use proper grammar. (Yes, you can quote me on that.)

Any grammar, syntax, spelling, or language choices that aren’t 100% approved by Strunk & White should be intentional choices, though, not accidents.

This is a case of awareness and “knowing the rules to break the rules.”

If you go rogue with your grammar occasionally, commit to your irreverence in the face of criticism.

Check #4: Punctuation

I love punctuation.

It helps a reader easily comprehend your message and enhances your writing voice. Skeptics can ask me about the wild time I forgot to include a comma in a Copyblogger tweet. 😉

There are two easy punctuation checks you should always perform.

  1. As you review your content, stop at every punctuation mark and decide whether or not it’s in the right place.
  2. Read your writing out loud to spot any instance where you might need to add a punctuation mark (such as a comma).

Geeking out about punctuation makes you a better writer.

Check #5: Faux pas

I’ve saved the most important Check for last.

Eliminate any phrase that could be misinterpreted as ignorant or hateful. Even if you mean no harm, it’s not worth the potential backlash.

Not disrespecting someone in the first place is always more powerful than your explanations or apologies later.

This vigilance for precision and accuracy isn’t a call to walk on eggshells. You can have a point of view and go all in without making a gaffe.

"Editing isn't about perfection; it's about judgment calls." – Stefanie Flaxman

Publish to attract the right people

If you’re spending a lot of time polishing your writing for your audience, you’re already way ahead of many writers.

Give yourself credit for your hard work and finishing a piece of content. But you also need to confidently make the judgment call that confirms you are done editing.

Delaying publishing only delays the time it takes to attract the right people.

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