How To Be Perfect



I don’t think it’s going to shock you to hear me say that I’m a perfectionist. Maybe I was born this way, maybe it’s the way that I was made through years of parental expectation and ballet classes, but I can’t remember a time where “good enough” was ever actually good enough.

This hasn’t always been a bad thing. My grades were only ever perfect, because that’s all I could do. And as an adult, I’ve built a career out of being detail-oriented. I don’t know how to be anything else than at my best.

But it isn’t always a good thing, either. Aspiring to perfection means that you always, ALWAYS fail. You will never be perfect. You will never write the perfect sentence or take the perfect picture, execute the perfect look. I have a very hard time recognising my achievements, because all I can ever see is the vast distance between what I’ve done and what I COULD have done, if only this was different, or I had this thing, or this other thing wasn’t happening in the background.

In my head, I’m failing all the time. And the more I succeed, the worse I fail.

Sometimes this is inspiring; it encourages me not to rest on my laurels or get complacent. It’s good to strive for something. It’s not good to constantly feel crappy because you aren’t The Queen Of Everything, All The Time. Nobody can do that, you know? Even the actual Queen isn’t doing that. She isn’t personally ruling every nation in the Commonwealth. She knows better than to try that! It would cut into her hat-wearing time!

Me, I don’t have hat-wearing time. Even when I’m not doing anything, in my head I’m doing something. I wrote this blog post and edited it three times while I was walking my dog.

I’m not sure what the solution is here, so sadly this isn’t going to be a “This Girl Used To Be A Perfectionist. What She Did Next Will Take Your Breath Away” type of article. I know that I can’t change who I am, so trying to be less of a type-A weirdo is about as likely as sprouting wings. Instead I am going to make a list–I still love those–of the things that I want to work on. I don’t want my perfectionism behind the wheel anymore; I want it in the passenger seat, being my navigator.

  • I’m going to start appreciating what I’ve accomplished. I seldom feel like I’ve done anything special, and I need to start giving myself a bit more credit. I knew nothing about photography when I started my job, and I’ve taught myself a lot. I built a studio from scratch for under $50. And video editing? Man, I’m skilled at that now. I know that there’s nothing that I can’t learn or achieve or do if I apply myself to it, and I need to remind myself of this every day.
  • I’m going to start appreciating what I look like. This can be reeeeeeeeally tricky. It’s my job to look at beautiful people day in and day out, and it’s almost impossible not to compare myself–often unfavourably–with them. But you know what? I don’t need poreless skin. I don’t need a 22″ waist. I’m smart, I’m funny, I’m talented, I’m healthy and I am AWESOME. I’m great in my own way. That’s the truth, and that’s what I need to start living.
  • I’m going to apply less pressure to myself. Because the world won’t end if it takes me a day to return all my emails instead of AS SOON AS THEY COME IN, OH GOD.
  • I’m going to take time off. I know a lot has been written about how social media is ruining society, blah blah blah, but I love it. But lately I’ve been feeling spread a little thin, and maintaining twitter/facebook/instagram/tumblr/etc has been feeling like something I HAVE to do. Maybe this means turning my phone off more regularly. Maybe this means setting limits on my social media time like an lazy teenager. I just want to feel joy in the fun stuff again, before it became so important for work.
  • I’m going to cut myself a break. I’m going to stop being so self-critical. I’m far harder on myself than anyone else could ever be–yes, this includes random people on the internet–and beating myself up over my work or not giving my very best to a workout or WHATEVER is just garbage. I wouldn’t let a friend beat up on me like this; I’m not going to do it, either.

I don’t know if this is going to make me happier. But I’m tired of not enjoying good things because I’m too busy wishing they were great, so anything has to be better than where I am now.

Wish me luck.

On Writing II: Editing, Editors and Killing Your Darlings

Hi guys! I took a little break while I went to Miami with some great friends–post to come, probably–but I’m BACK, and it’s time to talk about words again!



Today we’re going to talk about editing and editors, two things I know a lot about.

People laugh when I tell them that being a writer is really only 1/3 about writing, but it’s true. It’s also 1/3 hustle, and 1/3 getting along with others. And the most important Others you’ll be getting along with are your editors.

Marci and AMG at xoVain are two of the very best editors I’ve ever gotten to work with. It’s really rare that you fall in with a crowd of people who are totally on the same page as you are, who value your contributions, and who you like on a personal as well as a professional level. It’s taken me a long-ass time to get here, and I’m so glad that I finally have.

Not everyone has always been so awesome, but even when editors are strange, neglectful or tempestuous, they have something to teach you. Only once, when I was about 22, did I have to learn the lesson that sometimes editors don’t actually EDIT–they just hit “publish,” grammatical mistakes and all. The pedantic nerd in me never forgot that, so I dedicated myself to becoming my OWN editor, and making sure my writing was as good and clean as it could be. Now that I’m an editor myself and my standards are much higher, this has been very useful.

Usually my writing and editing process goes a little something like this:

  • Walk the dog. Write article in my head while walking, because my brain works best when my feet are moving. I’m like the dinosaurs in Dinotopia that way.
  • Write everything down. Seriously. EVERYTHING.
  • Take a break. Do some pilates or watch Bob’s Burgers or something.
  • Come back. Focus on the main “threads” of the article. Does it all connect? Does it flow from paragraph to paragraph? Delete anything that seems forced or shoved in.
  • How are the descriptions? Are they useful or superfluous? Cut them out altogether if the latter.
  • Are the jokes well-deployed? If there are too many, you come off looking like a hacky stand-up comic. Cut about half of them out.
  • Is the beginning powerful? Would you read the start of this article and want to KEEP reading? If not, delete it.
  • How is your ending? Ideally this should tie back in to the beginning somehow. End on a strong note.
  • Will this start conversation with readers? How can you make it so that it does?
  • Go back and read the whole thing again. Do the pictures make sense where you have them marked to go? Cut them out if not. You can’t possibly take 74 photos for a single article; that’s insane.
  • Final read-through. Watch for wordy language; likewise for language that’s too slangy. Write for the publication, but always keep your own voice in there.
  • File.
  • Notes, if applicable, from on high.
  • THE END.

By the time I reach THE END, my story is about half as long as it was initially. That’s a lot of darlings to kill, but it’s always worth it–condensing a story or an article down into its purest form is a beautiful thing. It’s like an art. It’s easy to think that you’ve written a masterpiece on the first try, and maybe you have, but everything can be better with a little polish.

Learning to edit–to look at something and see what’s good and what needs work–is a skill that comes with time. I used to edit people’s papers in high school and college, and I used to do a TONNE of copyediting back in the day, so my eye has been sharpened through years of use. Basic rules: Never use ten words if three will do. Explain everything simply. Use powerful, rather than flowery words. Make sure every story has a point. If you’re going to be clever, be REALLY clever–don’t go halfway. Stick to the subject at hand. Back up your points with research, and cite everything.

But most importantly, you need to see what your piece is going to BE when it’s done. Have a vision. Have scope. Killing your darlings is great, but make sure they’re the RIGHT darlings.

Sometimes I hear writers say that they don’t have to self-edit, because that’s what editors are for. NO. That is an entitled, nonsensey thing to say. You never want to give someone else more work because you’re too lazy to turn five sentences into two. Needing help is fine. Saying “I can’t be bothered” is not, and it’s the kind of attitude that torpedos careers. Editors have heaps of other stuff to think about and do. They can’t possibly do work that you should have been doing also.

Speaking of attitude stuff: be open to changes. Your editors seriously want to help make your story the best that it can be, so if they have a lot of notes, take those on board. Don’t take your ball and go home because they suggest your writing wasn’t perfect the first time. Criticism can be good. It’s how you grow!

However, if you’re stuck working with someone who isn’t seeing the same vision as you–who wants to chop and change your story past recognition, or take it in a direction you’re not happy with–know when to speak up. At the end of the day, this is YOUR byline. It’s going to follow you forever. Make sure you’re proud of every aspect of it.

Editing can be hard, especially when you have to cut out something you were really proud of. That can physically hurt! Just know that just because the passage/description/whatever doesn’t work in one place, it doesn’t mean that it won’t work in ANY place. I’ve got short stories that started as throwaway lines in articles! What is dead never dies (she said, Greyjoy-ly).

So by all means, kill your darlings. Be merciless in each edit. You don’t get a gorgeous sparkly diamond without cutting some bits away to show the hidden beauty within; that’s how you need to look at everything you write. Like you’re revealing something hidden, not taking something away.

Once you can do that, your work is going to be all the better, and editors are going to WANT to work with you. And that, as I’ll explain next week, is something incredibly valuable.

On Writing I: Inspiration

A lot of people have written to me, asking me for writing advice. Obviously I have a lot to say on the subject, but rather than blopping it all down in one giant chunk–and yes, blopping is totally a word, I am an editor now and I say so–I am going to break it up and post little bits every week. I will aim for every Tuesday, and hopefully I’ll hit my mark; feel free to yell at me if I don’t.


One of the questions that I get asked a lot is where I get my ideas from, and what I do when I have writer’s block.

Okay, so this is really two questions, and I’ll answer the last one first: Annoyingly, I don’t get writer’s block anymore. Maybe it’s because I know that I have a three article per week schedule at xoVain that I MUST stick to, maybe it’s because I’ve found a subject that I truly love talking about, but I can’t remember the last time I got idea-blocked. Writing has always been easy for me, even when it hurts, because I love words and when they’re flowing through me I feel THE MOST like myself. My issue is usually taking what’s come out and editing it into something better, but I’ll get into that whole deal another week.

There was a time, and it doesn’t feel like so long ago even though it’s been almost a year, that after publishing every article, I’d go “Nope. I’m done. I’ll never have another idea again.” But then week by week, I found something new to write about. And then three times a week. And now I feel like I’ll never be able to run out of ideas because there’s so much cool stuff in my head! Creating breeds creating. The more stuff I make, the more stuff I know that I can make.

So now, where do I get my ideas from. I am really lucky in that I have a wide degree of freedom in the articles I write and the angles from which I can approach them. Some of these ideas come from the world; a question that I’ve always wanted to know the answer to, or a subject I want to learn more about. Some things come straight from stuff that I love; I’ve written a lot about Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, as well as Star Trek and Doctor Who. Sometimes another writer will suggest something to me; I’m always inspired by listening to the ladies that I work with. And often, the community will straight up tell me what they want to see. Then it’s up to me to think of a unique spin to put on the subject, which is sometimes trickier to do that you’d think.

The world is an amazing place, and there is inspiration literally EVERYWHERE. One of the things that I love so much about beauty writing is that it allows for so much creativity; you can take almost anything that you love and turn it into a story, but that’s obviously not limited to just this area. Keep your eyes open all the time. Look for the beauty and the unusualness in the world. Always think about how you can help someone. Always ask yourself why someone will care about what you have to say, and then show them why they should. Always consider what YOU can add to the conversation that hasn’t been there before.

Keep watching. Keep loving. Feed yourself on music, art, movies, tv, long walks, handsome men, cuddly puppies, things you love, things you’re scared of–everything. Take in as much as you can. Be a part of as much as you can. Engage with people, places and things.

If you do that, your creative well will always be full, even if it’s hard to get the bucket down there sometimes. You will always have something to write about if you are an active citizen of the world.

There is inspiration in everything, if you know how to look.

The Luckiest


Every day, I feel lucky.

This isn’t to say that I believe in luck, because I don’t. Like I don’t believe in fate, or destiny, or horoscopes, or The Secret, or any of the magical thinking malarkey that sells us on the idea that it’s the Universe that is controlling our lives, rather than us.

But still. I feel lucky.

Five years ago, I was trying to be a writer. Actually, I WAS a writer; I was just trying to get people to pay me to do it. I had to ghostwrite blogs for popular internet personalities, hide behind male pen names on science and tech blogs because readers wouldn’t respect a woman, and write truly awful copy for businesses that would then turn around and refuse to pay me.

It was a hard time. But I chipped away and it got easier. Then things changed, and I changed, and was glad for the stability that a non-freelance life could provide.

But I’ve always been a writer, even when I do different things.

Common wisdom is that everyone is an asshole on the internet, and sometimes that’s really true. There were times when I was younger that I’d pick fights in chatrooms or message boards, just to show that I was smarter or could shout louder than they could. I usually stay out of comment sections because they are full of people doing exactly this–trying to get attention, trying to get a rise out of someone else, trying to look cool or smart or better than someone else.

But sometimes it’s worth it to wade in. Sometimes something clicks and you can consider a point of view that maybe you never would have come across before. Sometimes you can make friends.

And sometimes you can get a job.

I remember reading a comment thread on xoVain one day and seeing a woman asking how to pick out a bold lipcolour. I wrote a quick response while I shoved a sandwich in my mouth at my desk at lunch. I don’t think I said anything special–just what I’d say to a friend who asked me, or what I’d want someone to say to me if I asked. I didn’t know that the woman I was talking to was a contributor to the site (Hi Beth!), or that she’d email my now-boss to tell her about this girl who was killing it in the comments.

Some of this was luck. I was in the right place at the right time with the right knowledge base. But being nice to someone–that’s not luck. That’s being decent, and it should be it’s own reward. But sometimes it carries additional benefits.

A few days later, when I saw that xoVain was looking for new writers, I sent four or five short article pitches. They were really conversational, and at least one was about my dog. I didn’t think I’d hear back. But I did. My first article on making a custom lipstick shade went up the next week, and it did really well. I got awesome feedback from the other writers and the commenters. Nothing I’ve written has EVER gotten such an overwhelmingly positive response, and right away I felt like I’d found my home.

But I can’t say that was luck, because I busted my ass to make it amazing. I wrote and re-wrote 1300 words for an entire weekend. I took photos in front of a clothing rack with fabric pinned to it for three hours. I picked and edited photos while still learning how to use the software (looking back with a critical eye, you can REALLY TELL that my image editing game was weak). It was fun, but it was hard work. To have that hard work validated was incredible. And it continues to be incredible–getting to know the xo staff and other writers, interacting with the amazing commenters, learning new things, being inspired every day. I love it. This is my dream job.

Last week, Marci and Anne-Marie announced my promotion to contributing editor. I’m still riding high on that. For several days now I’ve been submerged in a sea of congratulations from all over the world, and I am so honoured to be a part of a community that is so passionate and loving. I really think that joy shared is joy doubled, and I feel so lucky to be able to share my exciting life milestones with millions of people that I love. Thank you, everyone reading this, for being so unfailingly awesome to me. None of this would have been possible without you. Seriously.

I remember years ago, in college, idly writing in my Myspace blog that my dream job was “my life.” And now so much of it is. So much of it still might be. It’s amazing.

I don’t know what’s going to happen from here. A new title means new responsibilities and challenges, and change is pretty scary to me. Anything could happen, and hell, IT MIGHT. But I’m excited rather than anxious, because I am actually watching my dreams come true.

None of this was luck. It doesn’t have anything to do with luck. I worked hard and I kept going–and I’ll KEEP going–and because of that I am the luckiest.

Thank you all. You are all amazing, and I hope I make you proud.