Breaking Through the Perfectionist Paralysis
At the beginning of 2020 I was writing, a lot. I was happily publishing away on Medium, getting my curations and claps, and thinking that I had it made. Then, as we all know, the pandemic struck, and life changed dramatically. Initially, I thought “Ok, this might not be so bad, I’ll probably do even MORE writing now that I’m stuck at home and can’t go anywhere.” And that was true, at first.
But, a couple of weeks into the pandemic my writing fell off a cliff. As things became more serious, I was struck with this problem. Either I write about the pandemic, which I definitely didn’t want to do because I’m not in the medical field, or I write about something else - but everything else seemed completely silly. I became paralyzed because it felt like no matter what I wrote, it wouldn’t be important enough.
I dug myself into a hole. The longer I went without writing the harder it seemed to get back to it. I went from writing every day in February to barely writing a word for all of March. I was scared, disappointed, and depressed. The pressure to write something really important felt so overwhelming, I just didn’t write anything.
For weeks I’ve had my to-do lists. Mop the kitchen floor, check. Fold the laundry, check. Create a menu and do the grocery shopping, check. Sew some masks, attend a zoom meeting, teach a class, check, check, check. But for weeks there’s been this one annoying bullet point, that kept getting moved to the next day and the next day.
Write a blog post.
No checkmark. Day after day, that goal just sat there and taunted me.
But, last week, something shifted. I realized that in order to crawl back out of this hole, I would need to take tiny, almost imperceptible steps. Rather than “write a blog post” I was going to break that goal down into the most steps possible, and then only do one a day. I would make them so simple that they couldn’t feel overwhelming. Here’s the list I created:
Day 1: Set aside some time each day to work on it
Day 2: Brainstorm topics
Day 3: Under each topic, come up with at least 3 ideas for posts
Day 4: Choose an idea and do some research
Day 5: Create an outline
Day 6: Write the first draft of the post
Day 7: Print out the first draft and edit by hand
Day 8: Rewrite
Day 9: Write at least 20 titles
Day 10: Add links if needed, SEO, photo, CTA, and title
Day 11: Publish!
Day 12: Promote the post — create Pinterest graphic, Instagram post, post to LinkedIn or Facebook
Yes, step one was to just figure out how much time I was going to spend and when. That’s it. And yes, the first day, that was all I did. I just told myself, after my morning routine, I’m going to spend an hour a day on this, so that day, I took this list and created a schedule. I told myself I could take 12 days to complete it if I wanted to.
The next day, I didn’t even have to come up with what to write, I was just brainstorming topics. Not even actual pieces, just topics. That felt easy-peasy. I know what topics I like to write about. Before I knew it steps one and two were done.
As I completed each step, if I started feeling anxious, I’d remind myself that all I had to do that day was that one thing. For example, I was working on an essay about journaling, and after I did my rewrite, I immediately started thinking, “I should write the titles today,” and started to feel that familiar dread, that creeping overwhelm. If you’re a perfectionist, you know it well, your mind starts going not to the next step but ten steps ahead, and all the things that could wrong.
I reminded myself, “I don’t have to do that today, I’ve already finished my work for the day. And if I do decide to move on to the next step today, all I have to do is write a list of titles, I don’t have to pick one.” That instantly made me feel better.
(By the way, writing 20 titles for one article may sound like madness. Believe it or not, this is also a perfectionism buster. It’s a technique I learned from Marie Forleo and I assure you, it’s gold! Twenty is such a crazy number that you just end up writing all kinds of stuff, not trying so hard to write the perfect title, and by the end of it, you’ve got a good one. And it really doesn’t take that long once you get the hang of it.)
Do I think that it’s going to take me twelve days now to write a post? No. The first three steps aren’t necessary now, and I started to combine them once I got some momentum going. I’m sure that this whole process will be abbreviated and down to a couple of days again soon. The purpose of this was just to get me out of that hole. And it’s worked! Having small, low stakes goals can be incredibly helpful when that perfectionist devil is taunting you.
Good luck everyone, and if you’re in a writing hole, know you’re not alone. We’ll get through this though, and I’m sure we’ll be stronger for it in the end.