In my coaching I’ve come across distinct types of focus problems, and trouble getting started is by far the most common. Virtually everyone I talk to complains of it in one form or another and there seem to be so many forms that I’m a long way from running out of ideas for what to write about.
There are several big reasons why people have trouble getting started, and each has a slightly different fix. Today, I’m going to talk about what I call Perfectionist Paralysis, using writing as an example for how it can manifest it and how to deal with it.
Also, one thing I have heard can be summed up: “Before I start, I have a potential perfect product, but as soon as I put pen to paper, that perfect potential vanishes.”
I can relate to this, as when I think back, I had milder versions of the same feelings. Something related recently jumped out to me as I’ve been writing content for The Focus Formulas.
That something is being too attached to something that I’ve already written.
Now, you could argue that this is actually the OPPOSITE of the Perfectionist Paralysis Problem. And indeed, it sort of is.
But believe it or not, these near-opposite problems have a common solution
See, when I write, I usually start from an idea, and then write almost stream-of-consciousness to a blank screen for about 30 minutes. These days I’ve overcome earlier perfectionist tendencies to do this without developing a nervous twitch in the process.
However, there’s really no such thing as good writing, only good editing.
Most of the time, this fast rough draft is good enough that I can just go back and polish it up a bit and it’s good enough. However, this isn’t always so. Sometimes, what I wrote just wasn’t great. It can include sections that might contain decent ideas but just don’t fit with the flow, or maybe ideas that aren’t even great but I am, for whatever reason, attached to.
On the whole it’s frustrating to spend time writing something and then have to ditch it. If you’re aiming for a word count, it’s demoralizing to see the count go up and then down again. It also seems like it will take longer to write something new than to fix up what you’ve already written.
However, I’ve found this often isn’t the case. If a grafted-in piece of writing doesn’t flow naturally after a bit of polishing, it’s probably not fixable, at least not without a lot of effort.
You’re better off just gritting your teeth, deleting what doesn’t work, and starting over.
Even when I was trying to hit a word count, I found that ditching problem sections may temporarily take me further away from the goal, but starting fresh allowed me to make up the difference in no time at all and keep going much faster than if I’d been stuck trying to fix something that just wasn’t going to work.
In practice, I found I usually made up the difference and then surpassed it within 30 minutes to an hour of deleting the hard-to-fix section.
So, to the hesitant perfectionists, I would say, putting pen to paper does not commit you to ANYTHING.
Anything you write, you can delete and restore the pristine potential of your work product. In doing so, you’ll get the creative juices flowing, and allow a clearer picture of your perfect product to form in your mind.
Now, if you are indeed an incurable perfectionist, this won’t help, because you’ll delete everything and go in an endless circle. However, I think most people, even self-proclaimed perfectionists, are not this extreme.
Once you write, the ideas will come. You’ll feel better, more energized.
All you need to do is commit to writing SOMETHING for a set period of time, and give yourself full permission to banish it to the dustbin if it ain’t working. Your commitment is to the act, not to any product of that act.
Now, as a matter of practicality, it sometimes IS possible to salvage sections that don’t quite work. Maybe the ideas are good, they just aren’t good where you put them. Trying to keep shuffling them around in the same document can muddy your thinking, so you should take them out. However, if you think there’s a chance you could use the idea later, have a separate file for the project that’s like a junkyard where you put everything that doesn’t work right now but you’re not ready to delete.
I’ve done this ever since high school, and for some reason I’ve referred to it as the boneyard, and titled it something like <project name>_boneyard.<txt/doc/whatever>. I have no idea where the name “boneyard” came from but there’s not reason to quit now.
So, to sum up, stop thinking about writing it down as commitment, of any form. It isn’t. The page is just an extension of your mind and no matter what you put down, everything still exists as potential.
And by being completely willing to just throw it out there, and completely willing to boneyard or delete it, you allow that potential to be realized.