Too many beginning writers worry too much.
They read one blog post online about how they can’t write a book until they do X or start a blog until they do Z that they get overwhelmed and scared and quit before they even start writing anything.
They think they have to come up with the perfect name or title. They think they have to outline every single detail. They think everything has to be catchy and flawless and incapable of failing before they write a single word.
I have one piece of advice, if this is you:
Stop overthinking it!
Stop second-guessing yourself every time a new thought or idea invites itself into your mind. Stop doubting whether or not you’re doing the right thing every time you decide to make a small or big career move, reach out to a potential editor/client/agent/publisher, or apply for a writing job.
Well, okay. It’s not always that simple. I get it. You can’t stop the doubts and you SHOULDN’T stop questioning what you’re doing by any means. But you CAN decide both how you are going to react to the negativity and act upon your curiosity.
It’s quite possible that you’re overthinking what you’re working on because you deeply and genuinely care about it. You want it to be good! You don’t want to make a mistake! There is nothing wrong with wanting to do things right and spend your time wisely.
It’s important to keep in mind several key principles I’ve used personally to get a whole bunch of words written in a short (ish) amount of time over the years. They are as follows:
- First drafts are always terrible. Write one anyway.
- The best titles/headlines come to you after you’ve already started writing.
- The best way to learn how to write/what to write about is by actually doing it.
- Talking about what you’re going to do is only valuable after you’ve actually done it.
- You can either exhaust yourself trying to do it perfectly the first time or having a blast experimenting and learning until you get it right the 50th time.
Try not to overthink it. Trusting your gut will not always get you the results you want, but it will get you results. The more you allow yourself to create impulsively, the harder it becomes to hear the worries and doubts screaming “DON’T DO IT” in the background.
In reality, they will ALWAYS be there screaming. You just have to learn to tune them out.
It’s not as complicated as your worries want you to think. All you have to do is sit down, decide what you are going to do, and then do it. When I got the idea, toward the end of December 2018, to try writing 1 million words in 2019, I didn’t spend three weeks making pro/con lists wondering if it was a good idea or not. On January 1, I just sat down, made a spreadsheet to track my daily word counts, and just started writing.
I didn’t look back. I didn’t ask, “What if?” I just started writing, and tried very hard not to stop.
If overthinking is your problem, your best solution may be to just stop thinking altogether. I don’t mean you shouldn’t use your brain when you’re writing … that’s probably not possible? I mean stop pondering the “what ifs” of the future. Focus on what you’re doing right now (writing — I hope) and only that.
Don’t worry if that last sentence was good. Just write the next one.
Don’t worry about what other people might think of your book when you’ve barely started writing it.
Don’t try to plan out every single detail of your blog to the point you’re already exhausted from it and it hasn’t even launched yet.
Just write it. Publish it. Send it. Post it. Don’t wait for something to “feel right” or “look perfect” or “sound nice.” You’re thinking too much. Just get it out on paper, or dump it all out onto a digital canvas, or send it out into the world — whatever it is you’re working on, it’s probably not as “bad” or “embarrassing” as you think it is. The more you try to tweak it, the less likely you are to share it at all.
You don’t need to have it all figured out. You don’t need to have all the answers or even know the right questions to ask.
All that comes later. For now, all that matters is that you write. A lot. Terribly, and then a little less terribly every day until you at least sort of feel like you know what you’re doing.
That’s how the greatest writers succeed. They stop listening to the noise and focus on what actually matters: the story. The words. What they mean. Their purpose.
Don’t overthink it. Any of it.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.