If you want to be a writer, throw “perfection” out the window and write!
“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”
~ Margaret Atwood
Writing has always been a curiosity of mine.
I envied Tolkien for creating a magnificent and living world that millions have inhabited in their minds.
I envied King for his imagination and raw storytelling.
I envied the profound skill shown by many of the authors I have read over the years.
And you know what? That intimidated me.
Sorry, no, that doesn’t quite describe how I felt…
My awe of these people made me shit my pants at the thought of picking up a pen and putting it to paper.
Deep inside my soul there was a terror so profound that I froze every time my mind got even close to the idea of writing.
Meanwhile, I loved to dream. I loved to think deeply. I loved to have conversations about philosophy and politics and what it means to live a good life. And I had them whenever I could.
But the idea of writing those thoughts down seemed so impossible that I never tried.
I thought, I’ll never be able to write like the authors I love, so why even bother?
A change of mindset
I was never the kind of person to persist at things that I wasn’t good at. If there was any indication that I wasn’t a “natural”, I would immediately cease and desist.
This changed when I picked up wall climbing.
Maybe it was the support. I made some good friends who encouraged me to push myself beyond my comfort zone.
And I did.
There were some sessions when I would try the same move over and over and over again, failing every time. Some days I went home feeling horribly deflated, having been annihilated by the unflinching, uncaring wall.
Then, I would return, try the move again, and, miraculously, I’d nail it.
To say I felt incredible would be an understatement.
I was on top of the world.
At least until the next challenge I couldn’t best.
But, with the knowledge that a little hard work would get me the results I wanted, I felt less deflated when I walked away from the wall having again been defeated.
Because, inevitably, I would return and conquer the challenge.
To me, this felt like a small miracle. I had never persisted long enough at anything to see that hard work pays off… to see that failure really is the path to growth.
For me, this changed everything.
Write, write, write
Now, I see that my approach to writing was backwards.
I started at the finish line and tried to think about how I could get there… tomorrow.
But, that’s not how life works.
Have you ever heard of the 10,000-hour rule? It’s the idea that it takes at least that long to master any skill.
Isn’t that interesting?
Sure, each of us may be predisposed to one thing or another.
Sure, each of us may start out at a different skill level.
But nothing other than time and effort get any of us where we want to go.
So, when I started writing in January of 2018, I had what I learned from wall climbing on the top of my mind.
I expected there to be challenges and moments where I would want to give up. And I knew that I had to struggle through them in order to improve.
But most of all, I knew that I just had to write.
So, I wrote. Not because I thought I would be instantly good at it, but because I loved it. I wrote to express the ideas that were screaming to be let out of me.
But I kept all that writing to myself. Those are stories that probably no one will ever read.
When I decided to write on Medium, my perspective shifted.
I no longer felt like I was writing just for me and for my love of writing. Suddenly, I felt pressure to meet a certain standard.
My first post, which isn’t great, took me three months to write. Three months!
And the main reason was because I was trying to make it perfect.
The book Art & Fear describes a fantastic experiment in which two groups are given the same task of making clay pots. One group is instructed to make as many pots as possible, while the other group is instructed to make one perfect pot. After the session, the quality of the pots were compared between the two groups.
Can you guess the outcome?
In the end, the group instructed to make as many pots as possible made better pots than the group instructed to make the perfect pot!
This outcome is often counter-intuitive to us, which is crazy because we’ve been taught our whole lives that practice makes perfect.
Clearly, this wisdom is hard-won.
So, this is my advice to you: if you want to be a writer, write!
Don’t worry so much about quality, because that will come in time and with practice.
Push your posts out into the world and then start another one. Don’t waste your time, like I did, trying to perfect the first, second, third… or fiftieth post. It’s not worth it.
You get better experience by writing than you ever could from editing your post to death.
Instead of aiming for perfection, aim for good. It’s enough!
So, write! And then unabashedly throw your work at the world.
Then, do it again.
This is the process.
This is what all the greats have done.
What are you waiting for?