Just Write

Alex came to me for some coaching on writing. I asked him how often he wrote, and Alex said maybe once a week for only a few minutes. He also said he was writing less and less. I asked him about his writing process. Alex said that he tries to imagine a story from beginning to end in his mind first before writing anything. He tries to imagine every detail, and every word that is said before he writes even one word. And that’s usually where he gets stuck. He just keeps rewriting his opening scene over and over again until it’s perfect. He has actually never written a story all the way from beginning to end. Alex had a classic case of perfection paralysis.

What I suggested to him was to get out of his own head, and just start writing. In fact, he should not even do any editing all. He should separate the act of writing and editing in two distinct stages. I suggested to Alex that the act of completing his stories is more important than making every line perfect. I suggested that rather than trying to writing write a perfect story right out of the blocks, perhaps he should just start with an outline.

Imagining a story in our minds activates specific areas of our brains. Getting it on paper activates other parts of our brains such as the part of our brain that control the physical act of writing, and the other part of our brains that tries to communicate ideas. This is why it is better to just get an idea out of our heads and onto paper. It processes the idea differently than when it was in your heads. Sometimes, the act of writing an idea down will actually present new ideas, and sometime better ideas than the one’s in our heads.

He fought these suggestions, of course, which is natural for those with perfection paralysis. So I presented it to him this way, “Are you trying to be a writer, or are you trying to be a flawless human being?” Alex was resistant to answering at first. He tried to say he wanted to be both. I asked him if he happened to know any human beings who were flawless. I also asked him if he knew any authors who never made revisions, or didn’t hire an editor. He started to laugh at his own answers. I then phrased it another way, “If you had to choose, would you rather be a productive writer, or a perfect writer?”  Alex laughed again.  I suggested to Alex, if wants to be a writer, a good writer, he just needs to write.

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