The Crucial Mindset For Writers If You Want To Stay Sane
It’s about progress not perfection
Our writing dreams are often about the end result.
Maybe you want to write the next great American novel, and have it sell like Harry Potter.
Maybe you’d like hundreds of thousands of subscribers for your newsletter and earn a full-time income from the paid subscriptions.
Maybe you want to pour your heart and life lessons into a memoir that rivals Eat, Pray, Love.
These are all end results with many factors, most of which you can’t control.
All you can do is get on with the writing and take action towards the promotion of your writing. Even then, you will probably still wish that you had more time, or were better at writing, or more effective at marketing – or all three.
Nobody is that perfect.
That is why the mantra “progress not perfection” is a valuable way to approach your writing goals.
How to make progress
“Progress not perfection” means taking action, little and often.
If you have written three paragraphs of your novel today, then you have made progress.
If you have signed up to create a Substack newsletter and this morning, before work, you read two of the tutorial articles, then you have made progress.
If you have sent out a pitch to appear as a guest on a podcast where you can talk about your book, then you have made progress.
Progress doesn’t mean that everything is finished. Progress doesn’t mean that your writing was beautifully composed today. Progress doesn’t mean that you got as much done as you initially intended.
Progress just means that you’ve made headway today or this week, however small or incremental. It means that you did something towards your goals. Over time, all those little somethings add up.
The curse of perfectionism
Perfectionism is an all or nothing mindset. Everything has to come out perfectly, the way you intended it, or it’s not worth bothering.
But hardly anything evolves in a flawless way. The problem with expecting this is that you end up producing nothing because you are fearful of a ‘bad’ result.
Most art, or an entrepreneurial endeavour, is produced in a messy way, by trial and error. The initial attempt usually needs to be refined, and then refined again. This takes consistent work. Lessons need to be learned along the way. Sometimes you have to abandon what you have done so far, but the experience gained from that failure means that your next attempt is much better.
The advantages of aiming for progress
“Progress not perfection” allows you to be a beginner, to make mistakes and for your goals to take as long as they need to come to fruition. It means you can take the pressure off yourself and plod along at a sustainable pace.
It allows for failure.
It means that you don’t have to know everything now. All you have to do is take the next step. If you come across an obstacle then you can learn how to get around it.
With a “progress not perfection” mindset it doesn’t matter if you have a lot of other responsibilities and don’t have much time to write. Having a few minutes just to scribble down two hundred words, or edit the first half of an article, means that you feel good about yourself because you have made progress.
Twenty years ago, I used to handwrite a page of my novel in the morning before going to my day job. I used to say that I was guilt free before eight o’clock in the morning because I had already written.
If ill-health slows you down, then it is still possible to advance, even if you can’t do as much as you did previously.
Tracking your progress
As human beings we respond well to rewards. What if you put a sticker on a calendar every time that you did some writing? Over time your calendar would fill up and this would be evidence of your progress. You might even find that you write more because you don’t want to break the chain.
Here’s a picture of my current tracker:
A green dot means I have done something towards my fiction and a red dot means I’ve worked on an article. The blue dot indicates that I have done some outreach to promote my work and I give myself a yellow dot if I remember to say my goals aloud.
I give myself a star if it’s been a challenging week and I still manage to persist and achieve something.
You can see that there aren’t many blue or yellow dots. I’m just starting to get back in the saddle after doing the bare minimum for the last three months because of my fatigue. This is definitely progress not perfection!
In the past I have tracked time spent writing each day on a spreadsheet. I also tracked the time I spent learning (whether that was a writing course, listening to a publishing podcast or reading a useful book) and time spent on promoting my work. Every month I used to compare the totals for each of those categories.
Other writers track the number of words they’ve written or edited that day.
Whether you are putting stickers on a calendar or numbers in a spreadsheet, it feels good to record this progress, even if you’ve only spent a few minutes on your project.
Adopting the “progress not perfection” mindset helps you to focus on the positive and not get bogged down with the negative.
Don’t compare yourself to others. Your progress only needs to be about yourself. How many words did you write this week? How much have you networked? How much have you learned about marketing your work and how much have you actually put that into practice?
“Progress not perfection” allows you to keep creating, little and often, even when your circumstances are challenging. Over time, the results start to arrive.
P.S. I would love to reach a wider audience. If you liked this article, please share it on social media and with your writer friends. Thank you.
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