So you’re experiencing Writer’s Block, huh?
Writer’s Block is one of the most frustrating and scary things a writer can go through.
But I have some news…there’s no such thing as Writer’s Block.
Seriously. Don’t believe me? Write this right now: “Mary had a little lamb.”
Were you able to write/type that somewhere? Then good news—you aren’t blocked from writing!
What you’re experiencing is Perfectionist’s Block, which is a very real thing!
Perfectionist’s Block means you’re so caught up in creating something perfect, you’ve become crippled by the fear of writing anything less than brilliant.
If you’ve checked out the post Expectations vs. Reality: 10 Common Writing Misconceptions, you know brilliant writers aren’t born that way. And even established writers still write less than good first drafts (and sometimes even pretty bad second and third drafts).
In order to move past the block, you have to write something. Anything. Like Nora Roberts says, “you can’t edit a blank page.”
Here’s my process to work through your Perfectionist’s Block so you can get something on paper and eventually turn that something into amazing!
How to Beat Writer’s Block
1. Get comfortable with creating bad work
This is the trick to moving past Writer’s Block. You have to get comfortable with discomfort.
If you’re an aspiring writer, that means you’re an avid reader. And therefore you know what’s good writing and what’s not. When you’re just starting out on your writing career, your work isn’t great. It’s probably not even good if we’re being honest. And that can be really hard to deal with when you know what good writing should look like.
It doesn’t matter how much experience you have writing—at some point in a writing project, you will create something you know isn’t good. But that’s okay. It’s part of the process. To move forward as a writer, you have to get comfortable creating work you feel is below your own standards.
I love the idea of the shitty first draft (or humble first draft if you’d rather). The whole point is to get words on paper, regardless if they’re good or not. So start to call your first draft your shitty, crappy, humble first draft.
Aiming to create a terrible first draft is a great mind hack. It’ll help ease all the pressure of trying to make that first draft perfect from the get go.
So write some bad stuff. The worse it is, the better! Crap makes great fertilizer.
2. Train your brain that starting isn’t scary
Our brains are programmed to avoid new things. They’re programmed to be efficient and to stay in the familiar. Because of that programming, our brains equate new projects with impending death.
In order to break past this programmed survival mode and get started writing, you need to implement a super easy Getting Started routine. This mean you’ll do the same steps at the beginning of every writing session. The same song and dance every day routine.
The more comfortable your brain gets with the routine, the easier and easier it will become to get started writing.
For an example of a simple Getting Started routine, check out my post here.
3. Aim to write the first 80% of your draft as fast as humanly possible
Have you ever had a project or assignment that you dwelled on and pushed aside for weeks and weeks, only to do the entire thing the night before? Chances are if you were a college student, you did this often. I know I did.
When we procrastinate like that, it’s because we think we’re delaying the negative feelings that will come with working on the assignment.
But here’s the catch—when you push aside an assignment, you never just forget about it. You’re still thinking about it, stressing about it, letting it loom over you. By pushing it back and not working on it, you aren’t saving yourself any stress, but in fact, creating more.
This is a trick I learned from Jack Canfield that has really positively impacted the way I work and how much I get done—I aim to get the first 80% of any project done as fast as I possibly can. That means I get started immediately instead of pushing it back and procrastinating.
Is it fun to start? No. Never. But all that mental energy that used to go towards the worry and stress of procrastination now gets channeled into getting the project done. Here’s the trick to just getting started instead of pushing it away—I know that first draft will be really shitty. But when I accept the fact that I’m going to produce sub-par work, it takes away the Perfectionist’s Block. And that lets me focus on my one goal of getting 80% of the assignment written. Remember, the first draft is supposed to be bad!
80% means 80,000 words if you’re writing a 100,000 word manuscript. It means 800 words if you’re writing a 1,000 word blog post. Figure out the actual word count first so you have some kind of road marker and then get writing!
You’re brain will start to panic at the bad work, but just focus on the mantra “this is my humble first draft. It’s supposed to be bad.”
4. Change your expectations of your finished first draft
So what do you do with a finished shitty first draft? What’s the point of writing a terrible first draft if you then just have to spend hours and hours fixing it?
If that’s what you’re thinking right now, it’s time to change your expectations of the first draft.
The whole point of getting your draft started and done as fast as possible is so you can get to your story.
No matter how well your plan and plot, you’ll never truly know your story until that first draft is done. This isn’t just true for fiction—it’s true with non fiction as well.
The more I write, the more I realize how hard it is to actually say something in your writing. What’s the point? What’s the message? What’s the theme? What’s the actual story underneath all these words?
The difference between writing and good writing is writing is just words; good writing is a focused messaged.
Most of the words that you put on paper during that first draft will never see the light of day. But those words are just details. What your finished first draft will give you is the story, and that’s where all the value rests.
Drop all other expectations for the first draft. As long as you can pull out a somewhat cohesive storyline or message from your first draft, it’s done its job.
Have you ever experienced Perfectionist’s Block? How did you get past it?