I don’t know who gave it to us. Other writers, maybe? Unknowingly passing this virtual virus via tweets, blog posts and even books. Or maybe it’s the writing gremlins–the little monsters that like to crawl around inside your head and whisper that you’re a hack… that you’ll never be good enough to be a writer. I don’t think we have an origin story for this one, but I know I have the cure.
The Disease: Perfecthritus
The need to choose the perfect word and place it in the perfect order so you create the perfect draft the FIRST time. You’ve been there, right? (Please tell me it’s not just me!) Staring at the blinking cursor and all that white space, reacting with either frozen terror (and a writing hour with nothing to show) or the endless cycle of type, delete-delete-delete, type, delete-delete-delete, type… (and a writing hour with nothing to show). It can drive you mad!
(Because–guess what?!–it will never be perfect! Not the first time and maybe not even the 100th time. That’s what editing is for!)
The Treatment: Permission + Stream of Consciousness
1. Give yourself permission to be imperfect.
Seriously. This works. “I, [your name], give myself permission to write ugly, imperfect words and to edit those words later with my epic editor eyes!” Go ahead, write in on something and post it where you can see it. I’ll wait.
*plays Jeopardy music*
Got it? Awesome! Read this to yourself every time you sit down to write. I actually made mine into a desktop background so I’d read it every time I used the computer. I thought it would take a year to change my programming, and it only took months!
(Tip within a tip: Don’t expect change to happen over night. Give yourself time.)
2. Practice stream of consciousness writing.
This is pen to the paper, no holding back, race to the finish line kind of writing. Set a timer for however long you want (at least 3 minutes, no greater than 15) and write. Don’t think. Don’t edit. Don’t stop. You keep that pen moving until your phone sings, “I’m too sexy for my shirt…” (What? Isn’t that everybody’s ring tone?). This will take practice. You’re telling your brain it’s okay to write crap so you can actually get to the good stuff. Do this before jumping into your writing/editing your novel and you’ll be surprised by the difference clearing your head can make. I often find the answers I need to plot dilemmas via this exercise.
Think of it like mining diamonds. We have to dig through a lot of crap before we reach the gem inside.
Don’t believe me? Ignore the gremlins and try it a few times. Let me know how it goes.
In the mean time, repeat after me…