Nobody’s perfect, so quit procrastinating

When you ask writers to name their biggest faults, procrastination lands at the top of the heap. They beat themselves up and call themselves failures because they justcan’t seem get going.

Photo copyright Aleksei Vert

Photo copyright Aleksei Vert

The problem, however, probably isn’t failure. It’s more likely to be perfection. The desire to turn out a single perfect draft can backfire into inability to start.

How to get past the roadblocks? Lower your standards. “It’s easy to write,” poet William Stafford wrote in “Writing the Australian Crawl.” “You just shouldn’t have standards that inhibit you from writing.”

Some of the standards that hold us back:

The belief that the place to start writing is the beginning of the piece. When you get stuck at the beginning, try starting at the middle. Or divide the story into sections and start with one of them. Then return to writing the beginning. You may find that your lead emerged in the middle, and you can move it up.

Fear of typing sloppy copy. It’s not necessary to get all of the spelling, grammar and organization right on the first pass. That’s why you edit and proofread later – and you’re not hanging out your writing for public display until that’s done.

Giving yourself permission to wait until afternoon or evening to write. Seriously? There goes your day. By forcing yourself to write in the morning, you relieve your performance anxiety.

Writing without a plan or an outline. It’s difficult to get from here to there without a route. A simple plan or outline can keep you moving through the material you’re writing.

Worrying about other things: clutter, bills to pay, appointments to make, email to answer. Take a half-hour or an hour to clear out distractions. You’ll come to your writing with a sense of having already accomplished something for yourself.

Having nobody to encourage us. Everybody needs someone who nudges, asks, praises and expects the best of them. The person who provides encouragement doesn’t need a formal invitation; he or she may not ever need to know they’re your angel.

How low should your standards go? As low as it takes to make you comfortable enough to pour words into the keyboard. Then, when you’re done, raise your writing standards again — high. Self-edit your work with a fine-tooth comb. Crack the dictionary and stylebook. Polish your work to perfection – at the end, not from the beginning.

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