Mindset Productivity Time-Management

Stop Over-Editing Your Writing With This Powerful Mindset Shift

Have you ever found yourself endlessly tinkering with an almost finished article or book chapter — only to watch it get worse before your eyes? 

You’re not alone. Many writers fall into the trap of over-editing, wasting precious time in pursuit of perfection. 

But here’s the truth I’ve seen time and time again as a writer’s coach: The bar for calling your project ‘complete’ can be much lower than you think. 

After delaying the submission of my PhD thesis for a whole year thanks to perfectionism, and seeing many writers being paralysed with even with their short pieces, I’ve found a new way to address the problem without feeling like a complete failure.

In this article, you:

• will understand why you keep editing far too long

• will discover a simple but powerful mindset shift to liberate yourself

• can follow a step-by-step exercise to apply your new thinking immediately

The real reason why you don’t submit your projects

Perfectionism is programmed deep within our subconscious. Many writers are conditioned to believe that they are only worthy of publishing their piece if it is faultless. You almost want a guarantee that everyone is going to love the result. So you keep tinkering.

But I’m sure you’ve noticed that when you keep looking for mistakes, at some point, your project isn’t getting any better.

In reality, when you over-edit, you’re avoiding fear:

• The fear of being rejected.

• The fear of not being good enough.

• The fear of losing reputation.

Normally, reasonable improvements on your piece make sense (of course!). But at some point, delaying submission out of fear will not make your writing better. It just makes you more miserable.

The mindset shift to free yourself 

How can you disrupt that vicious cycle? It’s hard, especially if you’ve been operating from perfectionism and fear for a long time. Here’s the mindset shift that I work on with all my writing clients:

• Learn to accept the uncertainty of not knowing how your writing will be received.

• Learn to allow the possibility that someone won’t like it.

• Surrender to the discomfort that you’ll feel when you submit something ‘imperfect’.

In my 90-Day program, writers need many weeks and community support to get there. Some of my book clients take months. This is just to say, I know it’s hard and I’m certainly still working on this myself.

Here are a few practical steps that help you practicwe this mindset shift.

Step-by-step guide to submit any project faster

Here are a few practical steps you can take right now.

To avoid perfectionism, over-editing and wasting your time, apply the Minimum Viable Option method.

It means that you envision a version for your project with a minimum threshold at which it is ‘good enough’. You might feel unease when you read this. So, here’s a thought experiment to show you it’s possible:

Imagine you get ill and are scheduled for surgery in 4 weeks. Before that, you want to get the piece submitted because you want to take time to heal and recover guilt-free afterwards. Can you send off a ‘bare minimum’ option, knowing that life doesn’t give you time for perfectionism?

Here’s something simple to work on your mindset shift even further.

Step 1: Make your options visible

Take a piece of paper, and draw a vertical line in the middle.

On the left side, think of your current writing project and jot down what the perfect version would look like. Pretend that you have unlimited time. 

Like so:

Step 2: Lower the bar

Then, on the right side, write down what the Minimum Viable Option would look like. Here are pointers to figure that out:

• What can you leave out for now, and change once the editor or proofreader asks for it?

• What can you push into the revision stages?

• What can you leave as ‘bullet points’?

• What themes can you remove to turn into follow-up pieces?

• Where can you give 1–2 examples instead of 20, to make your point?

Step 3: Set a realistic deadline for a perfect vs. minimal version

Next, write down how soon you could have each version finished, the ‘perfect’ one and the ‘minimum viable option’ one.

Tip: Don’t trick yourself into thinking you can do the ‘perfect’ version faster if you only ‘forced yourself harder.’ If you’ve been delaying it, you’re stuck in old thinking patterns. Honestly estimate, based on how long you’ve already taken due to over-editing, a realistic deadline.

Now, you make a decision. 

Will you ‘perfect’ your piece and invest that extra time (you can do that, intentionally)? Or, will you practice a new mindset and submit a minimum version? Perhaps there is a way in the middle?

How I applied this to my PhD

In 2014, I was on the brink of submitting my PhD. Despite a year-long delay, during which I endlessly tweaked the data analysis and chapters in pursuit of perfection, the underlying fear of potential mistakes haunted me. This fear intensified as I juggled the responsibilities of motherhood, welcoming my first child into the world. On top of that, I got offered a teaching position that required my thesis to be submitted for a significant salary increase.

Yearning for more time with my newborn and financial stability, I made a pivotal decision: I would submit a minimum-viable-option dissertation of 60,000 words, a significant departure from the standard 80,000-word requirement. Though it felt like a compromise, I knew it was a necessary step forward, even if it meant facing potential ridicule from esteemed examiners.

To my surprise, the outcome defied my expectations. The PhD sailed through the viva (defense) with minor corrections needed. Subsequently, sections of this ‘imperfect’ thesis were published into peer-reviewed journal articles. 

This experience showed me something important: my goals were more important than striving for perfection. It reminded me of the great things possible when I let go of perfectionism.

The mindset shift to accept a minimum viable option for my PhD was possible!

Why this exercise is so powerful

Even if you’re still sceptical, you will find the exercise of envisioning an imperfect submission useful. 

And let’s be honest. Most of the time, a writer will run out of time and eventually, after a lot of pain, submit a Minimum Viable Option anyways. And then, the writer would improve it during editing.

Imagine how you would grow your confidence as a writer if you could boldly and intentionally liberate yourself from your fears and opt for a ‘good enough’ option?

In fact, doing the exercise above already rewires your brain — it tells you that you can, if worst comes to worst, submit a bare minimum option.

Let that sink in. I’m sure your mindset has already made a tiny shift (even if you feel uncomfortable right now).

Even just knowing that can release pressure and reduce stress around your writing today.

Make more powerful mindset shifts with The Write Habit Newsletter.

Photo by Ryan Snaadt on Unsplash

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