How I Got Over Writer's Block #4: Lower the Bar + the Pareto Principle

Image Credit: Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash

How I Got Over Writer's Block is a series of posts where I share the ways I changed my approach to the writing process in order to make it easier to actually sit down and do the work.

By re-framing key elements in the creative process, I was able to start writing and publishing consistently.


In my first post of the series, I outlined how to overcome Resistance (that thing that stops you from sitting down to do your work) by simply learning to Touch the Keys (finding the tiniest task that you can commit to doing every day).

In my second post, I talked about how not to Break the Chain and how to Celebrate (aka - build consistency through the use of positive reinforcement).

In my third post, I talked about how to find YOUR best time to do the work.

Step 4 - Lower the Bar

Wait, before you think that I'm suggesting you produce sub-par content, hear me out.

We should always aim to deliver a high-quality final product, but we need to lower our expectations for the quality of the work we produce each time we sit down to write.

That's what makes it EASIER to actually sit down to do the work.

This post series is about getting over writer's block, and the only way to do that is to make it really, really easy to write.

One of the ways to make it really, really hard is to expect that every time we put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), we'll produce a perfect and magnificent work of art.

Talk about PRESSURE!

If you have that expectation of yourself, it's no wonder you're not producing anything. It's that expectation -  that when you sit down, you must produce this beautiful perfect piece - that stops you from sitting down to write.

Make it easy to do the work by lowering your expectations of any particular writing session. Be like a kid making an ugly-ass macaroni necklace; sit down and do it with all of your heart, and love it even though it looks like crap.

Don't be afraid of the mess! Let it be messy! Let the thoughts just pour out, You can worry about organizing them later.

Riff on ideas the way way a musician riffs on chords; allow your brain to riff without demanding perfection.

I currently have 79 blogs posts saved in draft. 

They're a complete mess, but that's my mental riffing; me following various idea threads, along with related quotes, book references, song lyrics, and personal stories. It's literally stream of consciousness around a particular idea.

There are days meant for riffing, and days meant for finessing. We can't always tell which it's going to be, so giving ourselves permission to let each writing session be whatever it's going to be is how we get over the block.

There have been days where I've most definitely not been mentally or creatively focused at all; I'm tired or I have other things on my mind. You know what I've done on those days? I've gone through some of those draft blog posts and just added relevant pictures. It needs to get done at some point right?

Image Credit: Lower the Bar

When I sit down to write, I no longer demand that my thoughts flow out in a neat and tidy manner. Sometimes they do and those days are BEAUTIFUL; it's what a writer lives for, those days when the thoughts come out clearly, concisely, and all in one sitting. That's perfection.

Most days are not like that - most days are a purging of stream of consciousness, but that doesn't mean the product isn't worth anything. Save the mess, and then go back later to pan for gold.

Allowing the process to be messy, is what facilitates the process.

Step 4.1 - The Pareto Principle

The Pareto Principle states that 80% of our results come from 20% of our effort.

How does that help in this case?

By knowing that 80% of your work as a writer won't get noticed, and/or won't be that great. But that 20% of the time, you'll knock it out of the park.

The odds are not in your favour. Accept this so that you can let go of the idea that every single thing you produce is somehow supposed to be brilliant. It's not.

"Oh...80% of my work will inevitably be just ok. And that's alright."

You might then ask, why not try to produce only the 20% that will actually be brilliant and have an impact?

Because we don't know which 20% of the work will have that impact, so we have to produce, produce, produce, without expectation. Or with the expectation that most of what we create won't be a critically acclaimed success.

Elizabeth Gilbert talks about this with regards to Eat, Pray, Love. She knows she likely won't ever have another phenomenal success like that book.

Eat, Pray, Love bought her the street cred to keep getting book deals, but the truth is that none of her books before that one, and none of the ones since, have been a success.

But the thing is, she didn't know! She didn't know that Eat, Pray, Love would end up being what it was.

And we don't know either! You don't know!

So...we do the work because doing the work is like buying a lottery ticket; the more we buy the better our odds of winning. The more we produce, the better our odds of success. We can't predict which ticket will win - which piece of work will succeed - so we just have to keep doing it.

If the Pareto Principle is true, then:
  • In one year, you write 10 posts, 2 of them will be absolutely excellent and are likely to get noticed.
  • In one year you write 100 posts, 20 of them will be absolutely excellent and are likely to get noticed.
Most of your work won't get noticed. And that's something to take comfort in because it means you don't have to meet impossible standards of perfection and brilliance every time you sit down to write.

You don't need to knock it out of the park every time you hit the ball, is what I'm saying.

But you gotta keep swingin' if you want to stay in the game.

Image Credit: Eduardo Balderas on Unsplash

"My point is that I'm writing another one now. And I'm writing another one after that," she continued. "And another, and another, and another. And many of them will fail, and some of them might succeed. But I will always be saved by the random hurricanes of outcome as long as I never forget where I rightfully live" — which, of course, is in the craft that she loved before she tasted success.

To recap:

Step 1 is overcoming Resistance by learning to Touch the Keys.

Step 2 is using Touch the Keys to avoid Breaking the Chain, and to Celebrate every time you add to the Chain.

Step 3 is finding the YOUR Best Time of day to Touch the Keys.

Step 4 is Lowering the Bar on your expectations for output in order to make it easier for you sit down and do your work.

Until next time, write on!

Image Credit: hannah grace on Unsplash


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