There’s a great story about the ceramics teacher who divided his students into two very different groups.
He told one group that he’d mark their work solely on quantity.
All they had to do was create as many pots as possible. If their pots weighed 50 pounds or more, they’d get an ‘A’. If they weighed 40 pounds, they’d get a ‘B’. And so on.
The other group had to create only one pot – but to get an ‘A’ it had to be perfect.
After a few days, a very curious pattern emerged: members of the first group were making much better pots.
It was because the perfectionists were spending their time theorising about what made a perfect pot – but never learned how to make one.
All they had to show for their efforts were some misshapen lumps of clay.
But the others were busy churning out dozens of pots, learning from their mistakes as they went along.
And they made some great ceramics as a result.
Read on… you weren’t expecting this
I know what you’re thinking.
You’re thinking: “Yeah, yeah. I know what he’s going to say. ‘Don’t obsess about making your writing perfect – just slap it down and see what works. It’ll be all the better for the mistakes you make along the way.'”
And now you’ve brought it up, it’s a good point and sound advice.
But it wasn’t what I was going to say.
The ‘mistake’ is what makes your writing better
Let’s forget about pottery and think about blog writing for a moment.
There’s lots of advice out there on how to write the perfect blog.
Any of it sound familiar?
put keywords in your title… break up your body with headers… always use bulleted lists to break up the text… link to internal pages using relevant key phrases… use ‘Top 10’ lists to create linkbait… always include an image…
We’ve all read this stuff, and we’ve all lapped it up and tried it out – churning out dozens of blogs that neatly conform to the approved template of ‘perfection’.
And because the web is now filled with them, they’re – well – just a little bit boring.
(I think the people behind Google’s ‘Panda’ update think the same – and that’s probably part of the reason why some of the big articles directories have dropped down the search engine rankings).
Trying to achieve ‘perfection’ in this way reminds me of the rather fatuous character of Poppet Green, a self-styled artist in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Put Out More Flags.
Eighty years ago her subjects would have been knights in armour, ladies in wimples and distress; fifty years ago ‘nocturnes’; twenty years ago pierrots and willow trees; now, in 1939, they were bodiless heads, green horses and violet grass, seaweed, shells and fungi, neatly executed, conventionally arranged in the manner of Dali.
Dull, dull, dull… it’s worship of a format, a technique to churn out content when you have very little to say.
(“How’s Poppet?” one character asks another in Waugh’s book. “Painting away like a mowing machine,” comes the reply.)
So when you’re given your 50 pounds of clay, I wouldn’t stop at making pots. Have a bash at making ashtrays, bracelets, busts, bottles, tiles, a model of a goat hiding in a tower block – anything a bit different.
And if the end result has a few flaws in it, don’t worry – if it’s a success, those bumps and abrasions are what’ll set it apart from the thousands of imitators who’ll soon be working to your template.