How To Start Writing When The Inner Gremlin Is Stopping You
You want to write. Really, you do. You’re just not doing it
I often get comments or email from people who would love to write, are very knowledgeable and have a deep desire to share their expertise. But something stops them. They really want to write. It calls to them. But somehow, they don’t have the belief that they can sit there and do it.
There was a comment to this effect on this week’s Monday Encouragement. When I gave my response, I knew I had the basis of an article.
Here are some of my tips.
Your writing doesn’t have to be perfect
You just have to start writing something. Yes, eventually it needs to be polished with a good opening paragraph or a killer first sentence or beautiful prose. But initially, all you need to do is plonk words on a page. They don't have to be good - they just have to be there in some rough form.
Sometimes quantity is better than quality
Many bloggers say that quantity is better than quality, as the quality comes from having a regular writing habit. When you start to write you get ideas for other articles or stories and you end up writing about a topic that would never have happened if you hadn’t started to write something.
The same is true of novelists. Many a debut book is actually the author’s third or fourth novel. The earlier ones were necessary as a learning curve and to develop a writing habit.
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Write by hand
When I'm stuck, I switch to writing by hand. That might be just a couple of paragraphs at the end of an article that felt lacking or drafting a whole chapter in a novel with just pen and paper.
Staring at a computer screen can be intimidating and urges you to be more 'perfect'. There is something about the heart-to-brain-to-arm-to-pen connection that makes it easier for words to flow.
Set a low daily target
Although you might want to write for hours at a time or do 2000 words a day to be like Stephen King, sometimes setting the bar very low can be more effective. Shaunta Grimes, one of the top writers on Medium, has a daily target of just ten minutes a day to work on her novel. This is doable even if you are busy or scared. It is something that can be dashed off last thing at night if you’ve had one of those days. It allows you to feel that you are still succeeding with your writing.
Another way is to set a low word count. Jeff Goins (bestselling author, blogger and marketer) has a target of 500 words. I can write that amount in as little as twenty minutes. The words might not be perfect but they are out of my head and onto the page. Other people choose something lower like 200 words.
This might not sound much but if you write 200 words every day for a week, you’ll have something which is a perfect length for an article.
If you have loftier goals, but don’t do them, you’ll have nothing.
Elizabeth Gilbert says that perfection is just fear in high heels and a mink coat. It can look like a virtue to want your work to be good, well-honed and the best it can be. But if that stops you actually doing anything then this mindset isn’t working for you.
It is better to have something imperfect out in the world, or at least on the page, than have supposedly perfect writing that exists only in your head.
It doesn’t matter if your first few articles or chapters or novels aren’t that good. Just keep writing and they will improve.
Some people feel that if they could just talk rather than have to craft written words, then they might get their book done. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, you can do that.
Dragon used to be the go-to software for dictation but these days you can also do it in Microsoft Word or Google Docs. Google the instructions and give it a go.
Imagine that you are writing to a friend
If you are trying to get your expertise from your head to the page, imagine that you are explaining it to one person. This might be someone you already know, an imaginary person who would be your perfect audience or an earlier version of yourself before you know all that you do now.
Some people even put their name in what they are writing e.g. "so you see Amelia, this is the first step to creating a business". You can take the name out afterwards.
Writing like this allows you to establish a very personal connection with your reader. In his book Running Down A Dream, Tim Grahl says that when he started writing in this way, his blog posts started to gain more readership and engagement.
Don’t worry about spelling or grammar
As a detail-focussed grammar nazi, I can’t believe I’m saying this. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar when you write.
If you’re dyslexic or have trouble spelling, that doesn’t have to stop you from writing. Again, just get the words out as best you can.
Once they are on the page you might be able to sort them out or maybe you will need help from a friend or an editor. It doesn’t matter how the writing gets done. It doesn’t matter how awful it looks on the first pass. All of that can be taken care of, one way or another.
Not writing is resistance or the inner gremlin f*cking with your head! Although I hope that the above tips are helpful, ultimately the only way to write, and beat that gremlin, is to sit down and do it.
Your writing doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be done, no matter how messy or scrappy. You can’t edit a blank page.
Photo by Donovan Reeves on Unsplash
You might find this post helpful:
Why It’s Sometimes Hard To Write, Even When You Really Want To - Fear 101
Good advice, Cali. I have a schedule for writing and try to stick to it... there is not really any other option for me. And that's working. What's been harder has been the putting down of words, however imperfect. I prefer to 'cut and polish' as I go, but I'm finding that impedes progress. As you recommend, I'm trying now to just get my thoughts on paper and then go back afterward and whip it into better shape.
Nearly four years ago I committed to writing at least one blog post a week on my Wordpress site. From January 2019 to December 2020, I did that faithfully. Some of my stuff was great, some of it was crap, but it made me a better and more disciplined writer. I did this even though I was (and still am) teaching full time. Yeah, it seemed like a ridiculous arbritrary goal for someone who was making NO money doing it, but it helped me find my voice so that now, I feel like my Substack account will have more direction and intention. It also gave me the courage to branch out into actual freelancing. I don't do much, but it's enough to get me a byline on a few websites.