Complete this sentence: Everything worth doing is worth doing _______.

What did you answer? “well”? “your best”?

We have all been taught since we were young to study hard, work hard, and then you will get rewards at the end. But life, unfortunately, isn’t that straightforward. The outcome isn’t just a function of what we had done; there are varying factors that also affect it, most of which is beyond our control.

But we are still stuck with this mindset: we do great work, and great things will follow. Input equals output. And so we try our best, making sure all of the i‘s are dotted and all t‘s are crossed, because for us, doing menial work is unacceptable. Failure is not an option. Failing means shame, and shame means the end of our career.

This is very evident when we try to write something. Even before we write or type the first word, our minds race to make the result perfect. And so we accomplish what we want: we write nothing.

There’s a lot of things that go into our minds even before that first sentence.

  • Can I even write a piece that long?
  • Are the sentences easy to read?
  • Is my idea clear for the readers?
  • Would it capture the attention of my intended audience?

And so it results in what is called a writer’s block. The ideas are already swirling inside your head, but you could not even begin to construct the very first sentence!

Hammer through the friction

This is a situation that is difficult to get out of. It seems that the more you think of it and the more you plan, the stronger the block becomes.

So, one thing you can do instead is to throw away all of the nagging thoughts in your head, and just start writing. Write anything that comes to mind, even though it sounds stupid!

That stupid first sentence will allow you to start, which is basically what you need in order to complete the task. And it is ok if that first sentence sucks.

Everything worth doing is worth doing badly.

In order to progress, you have to keep moving. There’s a saying that goes, “If all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail“. This is usually said in a negative way. But so what if all you have is a hammer? Would it be better if you stare at your task instead, wishing you have the right tool for the job?

Use whatever tool you are holding! Hammer through that first obstacle. The timing will never be right, and you will never be ready, so the best step is to take action.

Aim to write badly

Probably the greatest explanation that I read about writer’s block and how to defeat it is from the writer Dan Harmon. He says:

My best advice about writer’s block is: the reason you’re having a hard time writing is because of a conflict between the GOAL of writing well and the FEAR of writing badly.

By default, our instinct is to conquer the fear, but our feelings are much, much, less within our control than the goals we set, and since it’s the conflict BETWEEN the two forces blocking you, if you simply change your goal from “writing well” to “writing badly,” you will be a veritable fucking fountain of material, because guess what, man, we don’t like to admit it, because we’re raised to think lack of confidence is synonymous with paralysis, but, let’s just be honest with ourselves and each other: we can only hope to be good writers.

We can only ever hope and wish that will ever happen, that’s a bird in the bush. The one in the hand is: we suck. We are terrified we suck, and that terror is oppressive and pervasive because we can VERY WELL see the possibility that we suck.

We are well acquainted with it. We know how we suck like the backs of our shitty, untalented hands. We could write a fucking book on how bad a book would be if we just wrote one instead of sitting at a desk scratching our dumb heads trying to figure out how, by some miracle, the next thing we type is going to be brilliant.

It isn’t going to be brilliant.

You stink. Prove it. It will go faster.

And then, after you write something incredibly shitty in about six hours, it’s no problem making it better in passes, because in addition to being absolutely untalented, you are also a mean, petty CRITIC. You know how you suck and you know how everything sucks and when you see something that sucks, you know exactly how to fix it, because you’re an asshole.

So that is my advice about getting unblocked. Switch from team “I will one day write something good” to team “I have no choice but to write a piece of shit” and then take off your “bad writer” hat and replace it with a “petty critic” hat and go to town on that poor hack’s draft and that’s your second draft.

Fifteen drafts later, or whenever someone paying you starts yelling at you, who knows, maybe the piece of shit will be good enough or maybe everyone in the world will turn out to be so hopelessly stupid that they think bad things are good and in any case, you get to spend so much less time at a keyboard and so much more at a bar where you really belong because medicine because childhood trauma because the Supreme Court didn’t make abortion an option until your unwanted ass was in its third trimester. Happy hunting and pecking!

Dan Harmon – Reddit AMA

So there you have it. Accept that what you will write is not going to be brilliant. Aim to write badly. That polished gem that captures your eyes? It definitely didn’t look like that when it was first mined from the earth!

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