Good enough is good enough (you can always tweak later)

Image courtesy of chanpipat at

“There’s just something wrong with it,” said somebody to me recently of a piece of copy. It wasn’t something I’d written. Instead, I was being sounded out as the person who could right the wrong, and turn the offending copy into perfect prose. Now I’ve heard this before – from other people, and from that little voice inside my head (we all have one) that keeps up a constant stream of self-criticism. And I knew the answer, though I also knew it wasn’t one that he was willing to hear. Or any of us, for that matter. And here it is: there’s something wrong with all writing.

Good, better, worst

Yes, the secret’s out. Even the best writing in the world can be improved. And no matter how many times we revise, there’s always room for improvement. As time passes, it becomes more and more evident. With the every-increasing distance of hindsight, the writing looks less than perfect. Why? Because:
  • We change
  • Circumstances change
  • The product/service changes
  • The audience changes
  • What works then didn’t work now
  • We put something in that we should have left out
  • We did the opposite
  • It’s inappropriately serious/informal/technical/superficial/(fill in the blank)
  • It waffles (most writing does)
  • It’s too long (most writing is)
  • It’s too short (less common, but it happens)
But here’s the thing: at the time, we thought it was the best job we could do. And you know what? It was. It’s just that with the benefit of hindsight, we now know better. The writing choices we made are like any others. It’s not as if we said, ‘You know what? I’m going to make a big mistake today. Yes, today’s the day when it all goes wrong. Here goes. What fun!’ No. Instead, we did our best, but now we think it’s no longer fit for purpose. Or maybe we just want a change. So change it. But one thing that will never change is that no piece of writing is ever completely right. It’s never finished enough, or polished enough, or clever enough. But it’s good enough. And that’s good enough to be getting on with.

Back to basics

Now I’m not advocating that we use this knowledge as carte blanche to take a slapdash approach to writing in the first place. We still need to observe the basics:
  • Plan top-down (big picture, big ideas) and bottom up (nuts and bolts of the copy: pages, sections, bullets, details).
  • Remember the audience.
  • Cut, cut and cut again. A first draft is always too long; so is a second.
  • Leave the copy overnight, or over the weekend. Cut a bit more.
  • Shorten long sentences and break up long paragraphs.
  • Simplify language and explain difficult concepts.
  • Avoid jargon (unless it’s absolutely unavoidable, and you’re talking to an audience in the know) and slang (unless it’s a deliberate tactic).
  • Be critical, but not overly so. Never chase perfection, because it simply doesn’t exist.
And last, get it out the door and move on to something else. That’s probably the single most important step. And it’s not just copy – it’s all marketing initiatives. Just like copy, they’re never perfect first time round. But they also need to be pushed out into the big wide world. As long as you’ve got the broad direction right, you can make fine course adjustments along the way to reach your destination. Which is exactly what I did with my client’s copy. A nip and tuck here, a tweak and tug there, and it was ship-shape and ready to go. Not perfect, but as near as makes no difference. And that’s good enough for me (and him).