We’ve all heard the phrase “practice makes perfect.” The idea is that we’re trying to inspire or motivate ourselves to keep trying. We know that we can’t be exceptionally awesome right from the get-go, so we push ourselves to keep trying, because if we keep practicing, eventually we’ll get there. Eventually, we’ll achieve perfection.
But that’s a bold-faced lie. Practice doesn’t make perfect. You could put in insane hours, attempting to master your craft or your trade, whatever it may be. You could keep practicing, pushing yourself through endlessly repetitive drills, trying to force those perfect techniques into your actions so that they become automatic, so that they become second nature. And it’s still not perfect. So you keep practicing. And it’s still not perfect.
Here’s the thing. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It just needs to be good enough. And each time you do something or put out something that’s good enough, over time, what you consider to be “good enough” will be that much better. Your standards will naturally elevate, because the expected norm has gone up with it.
Perhaps one of the best examples of this comes from blog writing. There’s a reason why so many writers cringe when they read their early work, even if they were quite proud of it at the time. We get better. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but when you keep at it, and you’re consistent, especially if you’re constantly receiving the vicious feedback of the Internet at every turn, you should get better at what you do.
I came across a post from Scott H. Young the other day about how to be prolific. In it, he talks about fixed costs and variable costs. In the context of a factory, the equipment is your fixed cost. You buy that machine once, and whether you churn out one widget or 1000, that machine costs the same (in theory). Labor, materials, and so on are your variable costs. They depend on the quantity being produced.
Scott goes on to say that the “fixed costs” of writing involve creating a “vocabulary” of your work and mastering the “atomic skills of producing stuff.” When you first start out, you might spend a lot more time working on headlines, editing, search engine optimization, keyword usage, HTML formatting, image sourcing, and so on. The more you produce, though, the more these become automatic and second nature. In effect, you spend less time to produce the same amount.
The Quality-Quantity Curve
Perhaps the most poignant part of Scott’s post is this simple bell curve. With quantity on the Y-axis and quality on the X-axis, it shows a normal distribution. What this means is that a low quantity (don’t write much) corresponds with low quality. That’s a lack of practice. You’ve got to put in the work and keep those creative muscles limber.
If you strive for only exceptional quality (“makes perfect”), you’ll also produce a very low quantity. That’s because your standards are too high and, thus, very little actually gets published and pushed out into the real world. However, when you set a “moderate threshold” for quality, right in the middle of that bell curve, that’s when you produce the highest output, the most quantity.
It’s true that more isn’t always better, and it’s also true that practice doesn’t make perfect. However, especially in this age of social media and goldfish-level attention spans, it is in your best interest to push out as much reasonably high quality content as possible. And the more you do, the better you’ll get it, and the easier it’ll be.
Step Up to the Plate
You can never be all that certain with the Internet, so the more balls you toss across that plate, the more chances you get to knock one out of the park. So, just keep swinging. And just aim for contact.