Fear of Starting

I’ve mentioned how I use productive procrastination as a way to avoid starting the thing I should be doing (like, my thesis), and I’ve heard from several of you that you have similar strategies. But recently I read two pieces that have inspired me to actually start writing. Or, well, at least to think about starting to write.

Stop judging me.

The first is John McPhee’s “Draft No. 4,” which was in the April 29 issue of The New Yorker. Unfortunately, I can’t share the whole article here because you have to pay for it, but click here for the beginning.

Basically, he talks about writer’s block, a topic he frequently refers to in his New Yorker articles. He says he most enjoys working on the fourth draft of his articles or books because that’s when things really start clicking – he feels like he has something he’s excited to share with people. However, to get there, he must slog through drafts three, two, and the most difficult, draft one.

When you’re not sure how to begin writing something, McPhee suggests starting by writing a letter. Complain to your mother about what a terrible writer you are. How difficult it is. Why you’re not sure you’re even pursuing this career. Tell her about the bear you’re trying to describe in your story (this is the example McPhee uses). Describe it in detail. Go on for as long as you want to. When you’re done, McPhee says, cut the ‘Dear Mother’ and all the whining and “just keep the bear.”

The second inspiring piece I read is a short little blog post by Seth Godin called “Overcoming the Impossibility of Amazing.” He says that expecting ourselves to produce something amazing on the first go is a great way to set ourselves up for failure.

So, don’t do that.

Our theses don’t have to start off amazing. We just have to start. Think of how good it will feel when we get to draft four.

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