What holds you back in your creative process? What keeps you from writing or other forms of creating? What keeps you from sharing your work?
I recently published my 1,000th blog post. A few years ago, I was struggling to publish a weekly blog; now I publish daily. What shifted for me?
Here are three places I used to get stuck, and the mindset shifts I made (and continue to make) to push through:
(1) The Sticking Point: Is It Good?
I want to produce crap today and share that with my audience, said nobody, ever.
Everyone wants to produce great work.
The problem is that the desire to make it “great” or even “good” can get in the way of making it at all.
I’m not the only one who has said “if it wont be good (or if I won’t be good at it), why bother?” Especially for people accustomed to excelling, the prospect of doing something that you’re going to suck at is difficult.
This creates a challenge, because the only way to do something well is to do it poorly first. The road to producing great work begins with creating things that suck.
I cringe when I read some of my early blog posts. I also cringe when I read some of my more recent blog posts. But here’s what’s interesting: I’ve written pieces that I think are really great, and they don’t get traction at all. In contrast, some of the blog posts that makes me cringe are my most popular and well-read pieces. That doesn’t mean they’re “good,” but it does mean that they resonate with readers. And isn’t that the desired outcome?
The Mindset Shift: Accept that it might suck
When I started blogging daily, I had to accept that not every piece will be great. The best baseball players have batting averages in the .300s — that’s only a 30% hit rate. Not every piece will be a home run, or even a hit. But the consistency of putting my work out there — even when I think it’s “not good” — gives me the confidence to keep writing and sharing.
Accept that your work might suck and move on.
(2) The Sticking Point: Who is this for?
Common advice is to know who you’re writing for. When I was first starting my blog, everyone said I needed to craft a “persona.” I often didn’t know who I’m writing for. I’d begin writing a piece and start to wonder, “who is going to read this? Am I using the right language to appeal to them?”
There’s no question that when it comes to sales copy or other persuasive content, knowing your prospective buyer is crucial to write something that resonates with them. And it can certainly direct your focus if you have a clear audience demographic. But if you don’t, does that mean you should hold off?
Here’s what I’ve noticed: even if you know who your reader is, you might be wrong.
The Mindset Shift: Write for yourself
Everything changed when I stopped trying to define a reader persona and instead wrote what I felt called to share. I often write from my personal experiences, or topics that have come up with clients and friends. I trust that if I have faced a challenge then other people have faced the same or a similar challenge.
Sometimes I write about a topic simply because I have something to say about it.
(3) The Sticking Point: Where to start? Where is this going? What am I trying to say?
Begin with the end in mind is common advice. Know what you want to say before you start writing. But sometimes you don’t know. There are many times I’ve sat down to write about something because I knew there were important lessons in there, but I wasn’t sure what they were.
If I focused too much on what I’m trying to say, I would struggle to get the sentences out. And even if I knew what I wanted to say, I would struggle with how to say it.
I’d write sentences and delete them, editing before I got much down on the page.
This isn’t the right sentence. This doesn’t sound good. I don’t want to start this way.
The Mindset Shift: Get it all out now and figure it out later.
Something I’ve learned over the years:
It’s really hard to get traction if you keep deleting your first sentence.
It’s much easier to write when you have sentences on the page. Seeing sentences gives you traction.
The idea that you need to know what you want to say before you begin is naive at best and could actually hinder you from discovering what you want to say.
Author Dan Pink, in his 2014 commencement address at Northwestern University — a video well-worth your time for many reasons — shares this life-changing advice:
Sometimes you have to write to figure it out.
Instead of trying to write about something or write to say something, I allow myself to write through something. Once it’s all on the page, then I can return to review what I’ve written and see what’s there.
Ultimately, it’s not about what I want to say, but about what is calling to be said. I’m just the conduit for the message.
What are some of your sticking points in your creative process? Please share in the comments!