A while ago I wrote about how, the moment I started to take my writing seriously, I froze. Perfectionism hit, and it left me caught like a rabbit in the headlights, unable to progress.
I’ve been working hard to get through that, and I’d like to share some of the things that helped me.
The first big step was when I saw this quote:
The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.
That took a while to sink in, but there is a deep truth there. The first draft is for you, and for nobody else. Consequently, nobody ever gets to read my first drafts. It doesn’t need to measure up, it doesn’t need to be good. It can just be.
Hacking my brain
The second thing that helped me immensely is realizing how much my brain responds to context. I seem to have two very different modes in my head: writer-brain and reader-brain.
While I’m in the editor, I’m solidly in writer-brain. I actually encourage that by writing in a bare terminal, with just a typewriter font. My medium of choice is plain Markdown, so I have as little distractions as possible.
In that mode I try to basically turn off the critical part of my brain. Just get the text out there, any text. If it’s bad? Well all it cost me was some wear and tear on my keyboard and some time.
Then, after I have banged out that first draft, I make a PDF and put it on my Remarkable. I move away from my desk, sit in a chair and read what I’ve written with a pen in hand.
I generally mark the living hell out of my text. Because I’m now in reader-brain, I start seeing all the sentences that don’t flow right, the repeated words, all the crappy stuff.
So, I scribble in suggestions, cross stuff out, write in the margins. Then, I take that back to the computer and update my text.
Having this clear separation somehow really helps me to not get paralysed while writing, since writer-brain is just concerned with getting the words out.
Take it outside
Another thing I’ve noticed is that my desk tends to be just about the worst place to get my creative juices flowing. A lot of my ideas come to me while out walking, and I’ve just embraced that. Since I write Markdown anyway, I can easily type snippets on my phone and then later just paste them into whatever I’m working on.
The Remarkable has also been a huge help. I got the keyboard attachment and it’s amazing how good it is. That means that if I go get a burst of inspiration, I just pull that out of my backpack and start typing away.
Flowers grow on manure
Finally, something I recently truly embraced. Shitty first drafts are fine. They may have horrible flow, they might not be fun to read at all, but often there are at least one or two good ideas in there. Just writing that steaming pile of crap allows you to take those good ideas, and grow them into something that is good. While doing that I often find that in fact there is decent text hidden in the crap, it just needs more work to bring it out.
People say you can’t polish a turd, but when writing I tend to disagree. For me at least, it’s much easier to take something bad and fix it than it is to jump from blank screen to perfection.
Be gentle with yourself
In the end it always comes down to the same thing. Be gentle, allow yourself to fail. But more importantly, realise that it really isn’t as black and white as failing or succeeding. Something that isn’t immediately perfect can be slowly improved upon. And even if it won’t be your best work, that’s also OK. It can still mean something to readers, it can still bring a smile to someone’s face.
And honestly, I have learned that I’m just about the worst person to decide what will and will not resonate with readers. So, I’ve stopped trying to predict it, and just write what I feel like writing.
Sometimes it’s really that simple.