Editor’s note: Annie Lane is off this week. This column was originally published in 2019.
Dear Annie: I used to write every day – mostly poems but also essays. I really want to get back into it, but my motivation has waned. When I used to write every day, I was deeply depressed, and writing was an outlet, a stress reliever. I still want to write, but I never seem able to get myself to actually put pen to paper. I don’t want to believe that I have to be depressed in order to write. I know I’m also a good writer when I’m not depressed. I think that part of the problem is I’m scared of writing something bad, thinking that if I can’t write a beautiful first draft, there’s no point in writing at all. (Obviously, that’s a rather toxic mindset.) Do you have any tips for how I could discipline myself to actually write something while not worrying about the outcome? – Wrestling a Writing Rut
Dear Wrestling a Writing Rut: Every writer intimately knows the feelings you describe, including yours truly. Here are a few points to keep in mind.
Deadlines are your friend. If columns weren’t due weekly, I would never finish them. I know it can be hard to meet self-imposed deadlines. One way to get external ones is to join a writing group or to take a writing class online or through a local college.
Perfectionism equals paralysis. Fortunately, the deadlines should help with this, too. When something is due, you have to make peace with the fact that it’s not perfect. Done is better than perfect.
Confront the fear of failure by writing a deliberately crummy story. Read it back to yourself. See that the world did not end because you wrote something lackluster. This might also help to infuse some levity into your practice, which fuel creativity.
“Gamify” the process. Look for writing prompts online. Set a kitchen timer, and don’t pick up your pen until it dings, no matter what you’re writing.
Lastly, remember that the only way to really fail is to not try. So get writing.
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