You’re working on a writing project, and you’re trying to get it right. You’re yearning to get it right. But it’s just not happening. At all. You’re writing a novel. And you’re stuck. Or you’d like to write a novel, but a question suddenly arises or keeps replaying in your head, “who do I think I am?” followed by ten thousand reasons why you shouldn’t be writing anything let alone a long piece of fiction.
There are many times we fixate on the value of our work—and end up coming up short. Maybe we set sky-high expectations. Maybe we don’t. But either way, we end up feeling disappointed and derailed.
And maybe we stop. We quit. We bash ourselves some more. And more.
I recently ran across this quote from Julia Cameron: “I like to post a sign above my writing desk that says, ‘Okay, God, you take care of the quality, I’ll take care of the quantity.”
I love this.
In other words, keep going. Keep writing. Keep making. Keep scribbling and sketching. Keep a notebook with bad ideas and bad sentences and bad plot points and the worst characters you’ve ever read. Take care of the quantity. Maybe even weave it into a goal, or an intention: Write 500 words every day. Write three chapters of your book this month. Create two new characters each week. Come up with 20 article ideas this weekend. Draw the same scene 10 times. Write a poem every single morning. Write one super short story every night.
Yes, we want to improve and sharpen our skills. Yes, we want to produce good, likely great, work. Yes, we want to keep growing and evolving.
But we don’t do any of this when we’re paralyzed by perfectionism—or the persistent yearning to create masterpieces, to find the right words, to emulate our role models, to write the story of our lives. We don’t do any of this when we’re busy berating our writing and ourselves.
Who wants to write when the inner critic is roaring? Who can listen to one’s inner voice, to one’s imagination when the insults start flying?
Instead we shut down. Instead we start avoiding the work. Because it’s a constant tangible reminder of our supposed inadequacy, our deficiency, our failing. Practice, of course, is vital for writing. (It’s vital for anything.) And practice doesn’t happen when we’re hyper-focused on lack, when we demand we fulfill our soaring expectations.
It happens when we come back to our desks and start typing. It happens when we open up our notebooks. It happens when we return to the work regularly. And we keep returning. As Gretchen Rubin said, “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.”
Maybe you’d like to keep a sign above your desk with other quotes that encourage you, words that propel you to write and keep writing, regardless of the result. Here’s another quote from Cameron you might want to jot down: “Sometimes I will write badly, draw badly, paint badly, perform badly. I have a right to do that to get to the other side. Creativity is its own reward.”
Yes, it is. And, yes, you have that right. Give yourself the permission to exercise it. Fully.