My former graduate thesis advisor’s memorable words ring in my ears as I type this: It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be finished. A Plurk friend wrote earlier of the agony of finishing a post she wanted to upload on her blog, and I consoled her by sharing my advisor’s nugget of wisdom. She took it to heart and finally found the energy to finish her article — no small feat when you think of the perfectionist tendencies that lurk in the heart of every good writer.
I learned very soon after beginning my column for the local paper that perfection is highly overrated. Rather, what the editor cares about the most is that you turn in your piece on time, preferably with few or no glaring errors to correct. Of course you’re expected to turn in a good piece, but they already know that you can write, otherwise they wouldn’t have offered you the opportunity to contribute to them, right? Still, what’s just as important is that you can submit on time, every time.
I’ve made this mistake more than I care to admit, where I didn’t take a deadline seriously and ended up infuriating an editor. I don’t do this anymore (honest!), but they were painful mistakes that I hope to spare you from making. Writers enjoy the dubious reputation of being artistes, languishing in their salons or over their laptops, waiting for their muse to appear before they dare write a single word.
Unfortunately, that’s not going to fly at all in the professional world, which is where all freelance writers must live and work. If you want to consistently land assignments and be hired, you must produce and you must do it on deadline. Every. Single. Time. Nearly every writer suffers from procrastination, and that’s fine. Who hasn’t fired off a piece hours just before a deadline? I’ve submitted my column more than once with just a minute or two to spare. But I’ve always delivered.
Editors want to know that they can count on you, that you will be a professional throughout the entire writing and editing process. The final days and weeks before an issue goes to print (or, for those publications that exist solely online, the before the issue is published electronically) are almost always very hectic periods for the entire editorial staff, and the last thing they want is for a writer to flake out on them and fail to deliver on time. Trust me — if you don’t think you can handle a tight deadline, don’t take the assignment in the hopes that you can slide it in a few days or even hours after. The editor will not appreciate it if you make her work extra hard, especially if you’re a newbie.
If you have a longstanding working relationship with an editor and you find during the course of your research that you’ll need more time than you had originally allotted, let her know immediately. Don’t wait until the day of or even the week of the deadline. The more notice you give her, the more helpful she’ll be in giving you more time.
In the case of my blogger friend, if you’re the publisher and your blog has a regular posting schedule that readers have begun to count on, stick to it as closely as possible. There will always be days when your post doesn’t seem to sparkle as much as the others, or when you can’t seem to find just the right ending.
Trust me. If you, say, post three times a week every single week, that’s over 150 posts over the course of a year. One or two weaker posts isn’t going to matter in the long term. What your readers are looking for primarily are reliability and good, useful content. Some posts just aren’t going to resonate with some of your readers, while others will find them compelling. And more often than not, the posts that you consider to be your weaker efforts might actually turn out to be the some of the most popular, the kind that others link to and Stumble. Sometimes, even the imperfect ones turn out to be the ones that spark the most conversations among your readers.
Content is king, but no one ever said your content has to be Shakespearean. Trust in your good ideas, and put them out there. The more you write, the better you get, so don’t sweat about the little imperfections here and there. You’ll find fewer and fewer of them the longer you work at it.