This blog post is a sponsored post. Who’s that sponsor? It’s Grammarly. “I use Grammarly’s free plagiarism checker because the only thing more shameful than bad grammar is nothing — that’s right, bad grammar is the worst there is.”
Recently, I have been writing, a lot. In a wake-up-in-the-morning-knowing-all-I’m-doing-today-is-writing kind of way. I try to mix in a few other kinds of tasks here and there, but I’ve actually had to streamline most of those and cut them out for the purposes of making deadlines and actually getting things published so that people can buy them and I don’t have to lose my job because there is no money.
In that post, I talked about making the decision that your work doesn’t need to be perfect, and that point seemed to resonate with a lot of people who found it really hard not to pursue perfection in their writing.
Writing can feel so personal, and when you get really attached to something, it is almost impossible to tell when it is good enough to publish (but spoiler alert: it never will be, especially if you really care about it). (But you have to publish it anyways.) (Because it is good enough, you just don’t know it.) (And if you never publish anything you’ll never find that out.)
Sometimes the thing you’re writing just has to be done by a certain time, and you don’t have a spare moment to spend thinking about whether this word or that word really speaks to your main point or encapsulates your vision on a topic. Other times, you just have to publish something because you’ve been tweaking tiny parts of it every day for months, and if you don’t publish it soon, you never will.
So how do you make sure something is good enough to go out?
It’s all about knowing and capturing what is really important to a reader, and not what’s most important to you. Here are the two most important things to get right in order to turn in a piece that gets the job done, even when you don’t have the time to make it perfect.
1. Do the little things right.
Little things include grammar and formatting, because the less ugly your piece is, the more forgiving people will be of other issues it may have.
Especially if you are writing something for work, it’s important to get spelling and grammar right, because many people use that as a quick way to assess the quality of a piece (since oftentimes they’ll be skimming and don’t have time to process your whole big idea).
Take the time to do a spelling and grammar check at minimum, and make sure your paragraphs are evenly spaced and not too big or too small. (If you’re writing for the internet, a paragraph can be about 5-7 lines long before people will see it as “too dense” and skip over it.)
Also check to make sure you’ve met all the requirements for your work, if there are any, such as word counts. Don’t give people an excuse to instantly write you off, without even considering what you’ve written, just because you’ve made a minor error. Little mistakes are the fastest to fix, so the payoff for investing in editing them is huge.
Once you’ve done that, move on. Trying to fix middling errors in flow and sentence structure takes more time than you’ve got, if you have to publish something on a deadline.
2. Do the big things right.
If you can figure out the one thing you want your reader to walk away from your piece knowing or thinking or feeling — then very little else matters. If you can get your point across, then people won’t remember sloppy or boring sentences, especially if the point you got across was really good.
I used to ghostwrite for a blogger who never proofreads her work. There were typos, side stories, and weird sentences that I thought were definitely going to be her downfall. Except the thing was, I was totally wrong. Those little things didn’t matter at all to her readers. Her site got tens of thousands of views a month and was crazy popular, simply because her message was so strong. Readers intensely related to the ideas she wrote about and they could tell she was knowledgeable and passionate about her topics. And in the end, that’s all that really mattered to them.
So how do you make sure your point gets across, without toiling over a project for months and months? There are a couple of ways.
Ask yourself, “If the reader remembers *nothing* else after finishing this piece, what is the one thing I absolutely want to make sure they walk away with?”. It can be a tip or a lesson or a feeling or an action or anything. You just have to pick that one thing, and then let that thought (“If they remember nothing else…”) guide the way you write the piece.
Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them. This is an old public speaking strategy, but it works for writing and conversation too. Basically, you cannot be too clear. A lot of people try to be super subtle when they are writing, and unfortunately, subtlety just doesn’t do the trick a lot of the time. You don’t have to be so specific (“Today I’m going to tell you how to write a sentence. This is how. I just told you how to write a sentence.”) but you probably do have to be more explicit that you think is really necessary.
Try to read like your reader. What information are you taking for granted? Does your story need background information? Would your flow, from introduction to conclusion, make logical sense to someone else? Pare down tangential information so the reader can focus on your main point.
Write fast, then edit. One of my favorite ways to write is just to type out all of my big ideas first, and then build around them. There is no rule that says you have to write your piece from start to finish, and it’s actually often a lot faster to go out of order. Do your writing about each main point when you feel you have the most to say about them. You’ll not only write faster, but you’ll write more clearly about each point, which will help you express them as clearly and coherently as possible.
The more clear you are about *why* you’re writing what you’re writing and why the reader should care, the less all the other stuff matters. If you have limited time to complete an assignment, try brainstorming your biggest “why am I writing this” ideas before you start. The better you know what the point is, the better you’ll be able to express it to your reader. Once you’re done writing, clean up the details (typos, grammar, format) and then be done with it.
And if there’s a project you’ve been tweaking and perfecting for too long, it is time to let it go and publish it already. It will never be perfect. The best you can hope for is to publish something that was the best you could do.
And that’s good enough.