How To Keep Writing: 5 Tricks To Sneak Past Perfectionism

    how to keep writing

    Have you been sitting in front of your computer for what feels like hours?

    You know the feeling.

    Typing a few words, deleting them, groaning in frustration, getting a couple of sentences down only to decide they’re not quite right…

    You’re about ready to tear your hair out.

    You recognize what’s happening, of course. Your inner perfectionist is rearing its obnoxious head, inciting an epic battle between you and the blank page.

    And the blank page is winning.

    This could happen for several reasons.

    Maybe you’ve got a deadline looming and you’re under time pressure.

    Maybe you only have a rough idea of what you want to write about, and you’re worried it’s not going to come out coherently.

    Or maybe you care so much about your subject matter that you’re afraid you’ll never do it justice.

    Whatever the cause, you’re stuck. Of course you’ve heard all the well-meaning advice about not being a perfectionist; to just get something written that you can edit later.

    But you honestly can’t write just anything.

    Wondering how to keep writing?

    Don’t despair. Here are five ways to approach the writing process that you might not have considered. They just may help you break out of the impasse you’re in.

    Tip #1: Bite the Bullet(s)

    You may be intimidated at the thought that you need to turn out paragraph after paragraph of perfectly praiseworthy prose.

    Don’t worry about that. Instead, jot down your main ideas as a set of bullet points. Pretend someone has asked you for a 30-second synopsis of your article, post or story. What would you tell them—quickly?

    Once you’ve got those points down, add a brief sentence or two to further describe or explain each one. Nothing fancy—keep it simple. They don’t even need to be complete sentences.

    At this point I’d advise walking away and taking a break for a while, even if it’s only for 10-15 minutes. When you come back, you’ll be mentally fresh. Now review what you’ve written and see where you can elaborate on your points a little further.

    Again, you don’t need to write complete sentences. Don’t even worry about connecting your ideas. Just get your thoughts down in rough form.

    Before you know it, you’ll have a decent framework for your piece of writing.

    Sure, you’ll need to go back and fill in the gaps to turn that cursory outline into something more substantial.

    But you’ve broken through your deadlock. You now have some actual material to work with. And it’s much easier to add to something that exists than to start from scratch, which was the problem you had earlier.

    Tip #2: Confide in Yourself

    Another way to do an end-run around your inner perfectionist is to write your piece as a journal or diary entry. When you’re writing to yourself, no one will see it, so you don’t have to care how it sounds.

    Let it all pour out. Go for stream-of-consciousness writing… keep your fingers moving on the keyboard, and don’t stop.

    It doesn’t matter if you come up with clunky or disconnected sentences.

    In fact, you will.

    But you’ll also produce others that will say, clearly and concisely, exactly what you mean.

    For now, just keep writing. Later you can go digging for the gold in the mass of words you’ve assembled.

    That’s when you can finally admit that other people will be reading this.

    But by then it won’t matter because once again, it’s much easier to tweak material that exists.

    Tip #3: E-mail a Friend

    Ever notice how some of your best writing happens when you’re composing casual e-mails (or even long text messages) to your buddies?

    It’s no accident. When you know you don’t need to stand on ceremony, you don’t worry about making everything perfect. You express yourself simply, and the words flow.

    So take advantage of this fact. Imagine you’re writing to your best friend.

    If you’re reporting on something, tell it like a fascinating story. If you’re trying to make a series of points or arguments, do your best to persuade your pal in a friendly way.

    The key is to pretend honestly. Behave as though you really are writing to your friend—include jokes, personal anecdotes, and whatever you would write if you were really e-mailing them.

    You can always take out this material later when you edit—but you may be surprised to find out how much of it you decide to keep.

    This is another great technique for getting something substantial written down when you’re feeling stuck, because it’s so easy to communicate with a friend.

    And once you’ve got your “e-mail” composed, you can edit it for your actual readers.

    Tip #4: Try Longhand

    If you can’t make anything happen on your screen, try paper instead.

    That’s right, I’m talking about good, old-fashioned handwriting.

    You may be inclined to dismiss this tip because it feels like too much work, but give it a try and you might well be surprised how effective it is.

    That’s because writing by hand engages your brain in a different way than typing does. A 2014 New York Times article cites a study that compared printing, cursive writing, and typing in young schoolchildren. According to the article, “When the children composed text by hand, they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but expressed more ideas.”

    Not only that, there are two other ways in which this tip works to combat perfectionism. First, if you scrawl messily in a cheap spiral notebook or on a legal pad, you can convince yourself that “it’s not all that important anyway.” That way you won’t get so hung up on the need to make the first draft flawless.

    Second, you’ll eventually need to type out your writing. When you do, edits will spontaneously suggest themselves, and you’ll be improving your writing even as you type it out, effortlessly creating a second draft.

    Finally, there’s the added advantage that you can toss your notebook or pad in whatever bag you normally carry around with you, and get some writing done in places where you might normally not. The change of scenery alone can stimulate your creativity.

    Not bad for an “old-fashioned” method of writing, huh?

    Tip #5: Be a Dictator

    Let’s face it—sometimes it’s much easier to talk about something than to write about it. So if you’re feeling stuck, why not dictate instead of typing?

    The do-it-yourself way to go about this is with dictation software. The gold standard is Dragon Naturally Speaking by Nuance. This does cost some money. It also takes time and effort to learn to use the program and train it to interpret your voice more accurately over time. However, it’s well worth it in the long run if you decide you like “speaking your writing.”

    But if you just want to give dictation a try to see if it works for you, you’re better off using the voice recorder on your smartphone (or purchasing an inexpensive digital voice recorder), uploading the sound file, and hiring someone to transcribe what you record. You can find transcriptionists on Upwork, Fiverr, and many other places online (though be sure to do your research and make certain you’re hiring someone reputable).

    You can even combine this with tip #3 above and pretend you’re chatting with a friend. Don’t worry about the finished transcript sounding too casual—you’re going to review it when it comes back from the transcriptionist (or your software) anyway, and you can edit out anything that you don’t want in the finished piece.

    Reaching Momentum

    As a writer, there’s nothing worse than the feeling of being completely unable to write.

    This usually happens because we feel intimidated, thinking we must produce amazing results the instant we set our hands on the keyboard.

    Once we break this paralysis and get some actual writing done, it’s much easier to keep the momentum going. But getting to that point can be a challenge.

    These tips on how to keep writing can help you get there.

    So pick whichever tip resonates the most with you, and give it a try.

    Sooner than you can say “I’m nixing perfectionism,” you’ll be poring over the pages of writing you’ve generated, and editing them into a final form that will bring your ideas out into the public eye.

    Where they deserve to be.

    What do you do to nix perfectionism? Write your tips in the comments, and please share this post on social media if you liked it!

    About the author

      Michelle Russell

      Michelle Russell is a freelance editor who works with all kinds of authors to help them get their blog posts, articles, novels, and other creative works of writing out into the world where they belong.

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    • Santanu says:

      Personally i love to read latest news and trendy topics to get new article ideas. And this is how I make sure I keep writing daily. Thanks for this article.

    • CV Folks says:

      Thanks for this in-depth and highly informative article. Since I do CV writing, after certain time I really get stuck and couldn’t proceed. I think if I try what is written in here it will certainly help me improving my resume writing stamina. Also I shall share this with my other friends who are also CV consultants.

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    • Manidipa B says:

      Hi Michelle,

      Very useful article indeed. It surely is not easy to keep up the writing spirit. Thank you for sharing all these 5 tips which are easy to understand and actionable.

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    • Sunny Sheraz says:

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    • Such great tips Michelle. I’m right with you on the bullets to break a blockage, the long hand version to generate greater creativity but particularly the taking a min break option to come back refreshed and, I find, with better judgement and extra ideas (a quick whizz around the woods with an excited doggie fellow really helps). I used longer walks with a dictaphone when writing books and found that was absolutely the key for me – it took a few days to really get into my creative stride but once in, it was amazingly helpful. Thanks for sharing your great ideas.

    • Great tips! Bookmarking this article. 🙂

      I have trouble with first drafts not because of perfectionism, but because I hate writing first drafts, LOL. Polishing, rewriting, and editing are my favorite parts. I do have Dragon, though I need to spend some time training it. So far, all it knows are naughty words! 😉

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    • Thanks so much Michelle, this is really helpful. The format that works best for me is in form of #3 but rather than pretending it’s an email, I intentionally give out my unfinished draft to trusted friends and family to read. After discovering the story is yet to be completed, they keep asking me a lot of questions. They would want to know what eventually happened to Mr A, how Miss B eventually overcame her sickness and so on. I do promise to complete it and I always try to fulfil my promises to people.

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    • Thats the best method using longhand writing,
      Because you can rewrite your whole work later,
      Even if you rewrite it a couple of times.
      It will let you know your work is writen the way
      You want it to sound and feel.
      Thanks michelle all 5 tips are are perfect to use.
      From Nicolas.

    • Vicky says:

      Lately I’ve been ‘suffering’ from perfectionism. Reading some of the above comments gives me a slight sense of relief that I’m not alone. I will be sure to give Tips #1-3 a try for my prose. I’m used to using longhand in writing my drama scripts – it has proven to be easier and faster in expressing my ideas over the years.

      Thanks a lot for the tips, Michelle. They came in good time.

    • I am just beginning to write from a personal perspective. I have been teaching writing for almost 40 years and now I am ready to write more than research papers. Your tips will help me out.

      Thank you.

    • Joe Moore says:

      Thanks for the motivating post—I’ve been stuck for ideas for a couple of months, and I know that it’s because of over-thinking or trying to mentally editing something before it’s even written. A post like this helps renew enthusiasm.

    • P.Shyamkishore says:

      These tips are really very helpful for those who want to write but can’t do it because of the thought that they can’t write what in their mind with perfection.I myself face this problem.The topic we want to write about may be a good one but we fear that we don’t have the perfect words to express it.And this thought prevents us from attempting to write even a single sentence about the topic.This is a very challenging situation for the beginners.But we can overcome this difficulty by allowing words to flow to the screen or paper as they come without worrying about whether they have been arranged in the way we wanted them to be.Once we write down our ideas we can make them perfect by writing them over and over again.In my experience re-writing is the best method to improve the writing skill and also makes us confident that we can write our ideas as we wanted.

      • Thanks for your comment. The part I find particularly interesting is where you say “The topic we want to write about may be a good one but we fear that we don’t have the perfect words to express it.” That’s exactly it, in so many cases. So if we can–as you say–just find a way to get some words out onto the screen or paper, the rewriting is generally easier. It’s just getting those words out that can sometimes be hard!

    • Hi Michelle, I know several copywriters who swear by the bullet method! I’m more of a long-hand, manual mind mapper, which is done as Shawn does in another location . . . with tea and biscuits!

      Thanks for sharing!


      • Mmmm . . . tea and biscuits! However did I leave that out of my list of tips? 🙂

    • Kathy McAnany says:

      Thanks for the helpful tips. I am amazed that long-hand writing is considered “old fashion” today. I have always been a long-hand writer. I always write out everything in a traditional note book by long-hand before I type it out on my computer. I still think it’s the best way. I think it connects you to your writing in a way that typing doesn’t, as you suggest in #4. I feel there is a deeper emotional connection to my writing when it’s done long-hand. Some things are tried and true. Sometimes the “old fashion” way is best.

      • Kathy–I totally agree! Sometimes the traditional, tried-and-true methods are the best. 🙂

    • Long hand, scrawled in the journal, in another location. Works overtime for me. Now, if I could remember that.

      Thank you for the post and tips.

      • Oh, yes, the “other location” trick–thanks for the reminder, Shawn. That’s an excellent tip–writing somewhere other than usual can shake things up and bring you fresh inspiration. Thanks for your comment!

    • I’m on the long-hand bandwagon too. And I like to pose questions in my morning pages/journal that I might be too afraid to tackle when I’m at the computer (due to, you guessed it, perfectionism). Writing it in my journal takes the pressure off. Alas, also like you, I may not be able to read it all later.
      I did once try to dictate a day or more of NaNo writing into my phone as I was driving across the country. That was a mixed bag, but better than not “writing” at all. It’s definitely a different way of processing information.
      Great ideas, Michelle! Thanks.

      • Ah, yet another longhand lover. 🙂 And journaling–what a great idea, Angela! Good way to take the pressure off, but make the results more lasting than my “spiral notebook or legal pad” tip if you want to be able to look back at what you thought and wrote later. I can see going back and dipping into your journal for inspiration at times when you feel idea-dry.

    • I totally love the tip about writing in longhand form!

      As someone who has always loved writing, I truly enjoy the feeling I get when I put pen to paper.

      Great tip, Michelle!

      • Hi Lorraine–funny, the comments seem to be turning into something of a celebration of longhand writing. I also love the feeling of my hand gliding over a piece of paper, gradually filling it up with words.

    • Great stuff, Michelle! I think I use #1 and #4 most often. I tend to automatically organize my thoughts into outlines, so your suggestion of brainstroming the points first before trying to write definitely helps me.

      And I always have a notepad or recording device with me so I can capture the inspiration when it hits. Sometimes the clock says we have to be in one place when our mind’s still on writing!

      • Yeah, and the only thing I haven’t yet figured out is how to handle it when writing inspiration strikes in the shower. Maybe jot notes in the steam on the wall? 🙂

      • thanks for this post. sir.

    • Mark Tong says:

      Great helpful tips there Michelle – I actually find the same thing – if I revert to pen and paper the ideas come easier and quicker – only problem I then have is reading my own writing.

      • Mark–that’s funny! Partly because I have the same problem. When I write for others, I print, and I take the time to do it very neatly. But when I’m writing something longhand to get a draft out, I write in cursive and very messily (think a serial killer’s note–heh), and it’s often hard to decipher later. But pen and paper is one of my personal favorite fallback methods when I get stuck.

    • Patrick Coyle says:

      Regarding dictation tip, don’t forget the voice to text feature on our phones. Requires cleanup, but can open email to yourself and dictate turning spoken words into text.

      • Excellent reminder, Patrick. Thanks for that. Having to clean it up is okay if it helps you get something down in the first place. 🙂

    • Great article. It’s very timely as I’ve been looking for ways to simplify transcription. After reading this, I realize it’s no wonder it takes so long to create a great post! I get frustrated and want to post things before they are polished, thinking that they are polished, only to be embarrassed later!

      • Marsha, you’re welcome! And yes, I hear you on how frustrating the “polish” part can be. Personally, that’s where I can get hung up. In fact, I’m kind of the opposite of you, because I can stay in that phase for too long and never get my writing out into the world–which is a real problem!

    • Avinash says:

      Great thoughts Michelle!
      I often suffer perfectionism because I write research based articles some of which I learn for the first time.
      i have tried few of the hacks you have pointed out here but had never tried to write on a paper-pen. Thinking to give it a try after reading this.

      Also I use one more hack personally. I can one of my friend and discuss about the topic. Sometimes this too helps me to come out with some ideas to start writing. 🙂

      • Avinash, thanks for your comment–especially the alternate technique of actually talking out loud to a friend. Sounds like a great way to re-stimulate the writing muscles. But yes, do give the paper-and-pen method a try and see if it works for you. (See Cynthia’s comment just above–it really can work wonders!)

    • Cynthia Lunn-Romer says:

      Thanks for the tips. I have actually written pieces in longhand and too, found this process went faster than typing, despite some telling me it wastes time. Sometimes I just dictate the finished longhand into my smart phone. Thanks for reminding me that you can find easier ways when you work you through your own methods.

      • Hi Cynthia–interesting that you’re actually faster when you write longhand! So much for the critics, huh? 🙂

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