How to Overcome Perfectionism When Copywriting | Practical Steps
Many people see perfectionism as a positive quality. After all, we live in a competitive society where it often seems that only the best is good enough.
However, as a copywriter, perfectionism can be the arch-enemy of productivity. It can also cause serious issues that bleed into other areas of life.
So, how do you overcome perfectionism when copywriting?
These seven practical tips are a fantastic starting point. But first, let’s look at where perfectionism comes from and why it’s a dangerous habit.
What Is the Root Cause of Perfectionism in Copywriting?
According to research by John D. Kelly IV M.D., people who describe themselves as perfectionists often have low self-esteem. This issue is generally rooted in early childhood and linked with pressure to perform.
For example, some parents or guardians talk to their child in a way that suggests their love and acceptance is conditional.
Of course, this is usually not the case. Most parents only want the best for their offspring. However, miscommunication can mean that encouragement becomes confused with criticism, a damaging situation for the young, still-developing mind.
Therefore, children raised in this manner may grow up feeling never good enough. Their perfectionism stretches far beyond striving for excellence to the point where anything less than flawless equals failure.
Kelly states that perfectionists are at higher-than-average risk of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Other research suggests that perfectionists are prone to suicidal ideation and attempts.
Although this is an extreme example, perfectionism can negatively impact many aspects of daily life. It can seep into one’s work and personal affairs, making individuals more likely to judge themselves and others harshly.
So, how does this apply to copywriting? Is it all bad news, or are there any advantages to being a perfectionist copywriter?
The Dangers of Perfectionism When Copywriting
Aside from causing unnecessary stress, there are several reasons why perfectionism is detrimental to copywriters.
Firstly, it can make everything take far longer than it should. Perfectionists tend to critique their work as they produce it. This can result in second-guessing, checking and rechecking, or deleting and rewriting sentences countless times.
Stopping and starting writing in this way can harm the overall flow of a passage. It can also result in deep frustration, not to mention wasted time.
Secondly, perfectionism can stifle creativity and sap much of the enjoyment from any task. According to David Burns, M.D., one way around this is to focus on the process rather than the results.
As a copywriter, this could mean using exercises such as freewriting to hone ideas before beginning a piece in earnest. It could also mean knowing when to let go and allow your editor to do their job!
Finally, perfectionists can have difficulty learning from their mistakes. They may see every piece of constructive criticism as a personal affront. This can, ultimately, lead to even lower self-esteem and a vicious cycle of perfectionism and negative thinking.
However, not all perfectionism is bad. According to experts, there are two types of perfectionism: Adaptive and maladaptive. While the latter can cause someone to beat themselves up continually, the former can be a positive driving force.
Adaptive perfectionism is the pursuit of greatness rather than the belief that everything must be faultless at all times. It can improve the overall standard of one’s writing as well as increasing motivation and discipline. It is only when one’s standards become excessively high that the real problems begin.
How to Overcome Copywriting Perfectionism
Now, let’s look at how to overcome perfectionism when copywriting and switch from maladaptive to adaptive styles.
The first step toward banishing perfectionism from your writing is acknowledging there’s a problem. If you’re reading this, it’s probably something you’ve already done.
To find out just how much impact perfectionism is having on your work, try writing out a list of pros and cons. The chances are that the adverse effects of perfectionism far outweigh the positives.
It can be helpful to understand where your perfectionism originated. If it’s something that is influencing other areas of your life as well as work, you might consider therapy. By learning about your perfectionism’s root cause, you may be able to put it behind you and move on.
3. Accept Imperfection
A significant step toward overcoming perfectionism is to accept that nobody is perfect. As humans, we all make mistakes, often on a daily basis. The key is to see these mistakes as learning opportunities and not a sign of failure.
This is one area where therapies such as CBT and practices like mindfulness can help. Alternatively, for a more philosophical viewpoint, read up on the Japanese school of thought known as wabi-sabi. It is based on the teachings of Buddhism and emphasizes finding beauty in imperfection.
4. Turn Off Negative Self-Talk
Perfectionists often talk to themselves in a way that they would never dream of talking to others. However, phrases like “I’m so stupid” do nothing but reinforce the cycle of criticism and perfectionism.
Try turning things around with something like, “I made a mistake, but I did well to complete that article with such a short deadline” instead.
5. Know What’s Required
Before you embark on a project, know exactly what’s expected of you. There’s little point punishing yourself trying to turn out perfectly polished copy if all your editor is after is a rough draft. Getting clear guidelines at the outset can save a lot of time and effort.
6. Give Your Inner Editor a Break
As copywriters, most of us have two modes: Writer and editor. If your inner editor is constantly interfering while the writer is trying to work, you won’t get very far.
While you’re writing copy, try to suspend judgment and let the creativity flow. You can change anything you’re not happy with later.
7. Know When to Move on
Perfectionists can agonize for hours over a single paragraph. Defeat this behavior by setting a strict time limit for each piece of work and not exceeding it.
Of course, it is essential to be realistic and leave yourself long enough to complete the task. But setting a time limit means that you won’t spend longer than necessary tweaking something that is already good enough.
Final Thoughts on Perfectionism and Copywriting
While, on the surface, perfectionism might seem like an admirable quality, it is often a rather damaging behavior. It can lead to procrastination, creative blocks, and severe mental health problems.
While some degree of perfectionism can be helpful, experts have suggested that successful people are less likely to be perfectionists. In order to progress in life, it is necessary to take risks and be willing to fail.
David Burns, M.D. challenges anyone struggling with perfectionism to “dare to be average for 30 days.” By learning to accept imperfection in both copywriting and other areas of life, you open yourself to a world of opportunities that may be impossible otherwise.