So, I did it again. I have spent much of the last two days trying to edit a technical document into something that I can understand and that exceeds my standards for clear and informative writing. I’ve been line editing, I’ve been working on organization, I’ve been pinging subject matter experts for examples and to clarify points that do not come across well to me, I’ve been excising passive voice. Essentially, I’ve become a tech writer again. And I’m struggling. The document is due, I’m not happy with it, and I don’t think I can line edit my way to nirvana.
I came home tonight frustrated, needing a break from the document, but fretting about the looming deadline. And then, sitting on my yoga mat starting my practice, I realized that I was trying to grope my way through this document towards the perfect document. And, I noticed I was wasting energy beating myself up for not knowing which thread to pull or which angle to pursue to get there.
The place I used to work had several catchy phrases we used when we were stuck: “make mistakes faster” was one, “make it suck less” was another. They’re intertwined – “make mistakes faster” is an acknowledgement that we’ll make errors and omissions, but we can reduce their impact by conducting shorter project iterations and sharing work with each other more quickly. The spirit of “make it suck less” is to find satisfaction in incremental improvements. Instead of pining for the perfect solution, instead of whining about the lack of time, tools, or creativity to accomplish whatever unrealistic goal, take stock, prioritize the options, and make it as much better as you can.
Basically, for me, the inverse of “make it suck less” is rampant, soul-throttling perfectionism that gets in the way of doing the little things that add together into the big things. It’s analysis paralysis, endless theorizing, pining for some ideal document/software program/website. It is trying too hard. It is Anne Lamott’s radio station KFKD – the double whammy of self-aggrandizement and self-loathing that gets in the way of getting any actual work done.
Luckily, if I take a rest, go for a cycle ride, or do yoga, I give myself the space to notice that KFKD is on, I give myself the quiet to remember that that all I can do, all I need to do in this moment, is to “make it suck less”, to work with what I have and be patient.