I have never forgotten the last paper I wrote in order to finish my Masters in English.
I wrote about Austen’s work, Emma. After being five years in the program, I had “good” writing and grammar down pat.
In fact, I strove to hand in error-free papers. I’d type and proof, retype and proof again. It took me days to write a simple five page, double-spaced paper.
I remember my Emma paper because the professor found a mistake.
When referring to Emma and Mr. Knightly, I used an apostrophe “s” after Mr. Knightley’s name only to denote they owned something in common.
The professor wrote, “A glaring error in an otherwise perfect paper.”
I can still feel the rage that welled up in my stomach when I read that comment.
I was so angry, I looked up the grammar rule and sent my paper back with a note to show that I was right.
The professor wrote back, “I stand corrected.”
A bad experience in an otherwise wonderful time in the Masters program.
In his book, Linchpin, Seth Godin writes:
Read someone’s resume, and discover twenty years of extraordinary exploits and one typo.
Which are you going to mention first? We are hired for perfect, we measure for perfect, and we reward for perfect.
So why are we surprised that people spend their precious minutes of self-directed, focused work time trying to achieve perfect?
I am not perfect.
Especially when it comes to writing typo-free content. When you get something written from me, it might have a typo in it. Or two. Maybe even three.
This is not to say I don’t care about my work. I do care. Deeply.
Like most writers, I proofread my work. I print out reams of paper, edit and proof, edit and proof. (I print out so much paper, I’m on a first name basis with A1 Datashred.)
For years I struggled to produce copy that did not have one typo. I firmly believed these truths:
- Typos show a lack of attention to detail.
- Typos reflect poorly on you and your work.
But given the nature of my work, I find it incredibly difficult to produce typo-free copy. I write all day long. I type a million miles a minute. My eyes glaze over from staring at the computer screen.
Given that 99% percent of what I write is digital content, it’s pretty easy to fix mistakes.
But here’s the big idea (you knew I’d get there at some point): I’m not writing so much as I’m creating content that will help my customers grow their businesses.
I’ve been working on my DH Communications Facebook page and found myself writing this little description about myself:
“Dianna Huff is an all around B2B marketing expert who has been in the trenches since . . . forever. My passion is helping my clients grow their businesses through marketing. I ‘woot’ when this happens. Woot!”
I love, love, love when a client emails to say, “Dianna! Someone found my Website via search and I just got a huge order that will keep me busy for the next two months.” Woot!
These are the clients that “get” that I’m on their team. Not just rooting for them. Trying to hit singles, doubles, and triples and maybe if I’m lucky, a home run.
So a typo or two just isn’t that big of a deal.
“Here’s the problem [when we measure for perfect],” writes Godin. “Art is never defect-free.”
What it means — which is the thesis of Godin’s book — is that measuring for perfect won’t get you anywhere. If you’re a business and you want to grow, you need to start looking for the “remarkable.”