The 85-Percent Rule

There's a famous saying, the perfect is the enemy of the done.

As a perfectionist, I know this to be true. The more I try to accomplish something and make it perfect, the less I get done. Which is why, years ago when I was an up-and-coming nonfiction writer, I adopted something that I call "The 85% Rule." When writing an early draft, I only give it 85% of my best. I never give it my all. Certainly, I don't give it the proverbial 110% that your high school track coach told you to give.

Nope. For me, giving 100% is a dead-end. It leads to procrastination and worse, chronic, obsessive rewriting. Trying to write from this place of dictatorial control never works for me.

And the result is never pretty. Forced writing is less creative, less interesting.  I get the opposite result when I focus on giving less of myself to my writing. When I aim for eighty-five percent effort, I take more risks. Risk leads to bolder, more interesting writing.

So I invite you to stop trying to be the next Nobel laureate. Instead, aim to be a messy human being. I venture to guess that you will say more and write more powerfully. You will end up with writing that rich with ideas and voice. Later, you can shape your messy draft into polished writing that sings like a bird in paradise.