A favorite exercise of those who want to get over the mental block of writing and just get words on the page is to pretend there is no backspace key on your keyboard. The goal is to just write like you should, to type as you’re thinking and get into a flow state to get lots of words on the page. You’ll write much faster by turning off your inner editor. Just keep typing.
For those like myself who just can’t help but use that backspace key, there are apps that completely eliminate that temptation:
- First, there’s nope.press. Any time you try to use the backspace key, you’ll be greeted by an audible “nope” instead.
- If you need a little more incentive to keep getting those words on the page, “the most dangerous writing app” takes it a step further by deleting your work if you don’t keep typing.
- Then there’s write or die. This is for the truly masochistic writer. Not only will it delete your progress if you don’t keep going, but it’s as evil as you want to make it beyond that. You set a timer and a word count goal. Then it’s up to you if you want a pleasant auditory or visual reward for continuing to type (such as nature sounds or kittens in the background), or an unpleasant consequence (like spiders crawling across your screen).
It’s such an ingrained habit to use the backspace key. I hate seeing mistakes on the page because I hate the idea of having to go back later to fix them. That’s me in a nutshell: I’d rather get unpleasant tasks out of the way right freaking now so I don’t have to remember to do them later. But perhaps I’m sabotaging myself more than I realize with this kind of mindset.
I find that if I write without a backspace key, I write slower so as to avoid mistakes. That defeats the point of the exercise. I’m supposed to turn off my inner editor. Mistakes aren’t the enemy. Failing to get words on the page is the enemy. Mistakes are a part of practice.
Your internal editor can disguise itself as your friend but really be a form of resistance that can go unnoticed for years. I’m realizing now for the first time that that inner editor goes deeper than with writing. I want to fix things as they arise, which may be taking time from what I really need to be focusing on. I need to get the bulk of the work done first, to get in the flow of doing it to get my best work out. You get your best work out on the first try when your thoughts are raw, not by editing them as they come out. Get out the good work onto the page as it exists in your mind now, in its most purest, freshest form. You can fix it up later. The important thing is to preserve the original thoughts. If you compile all of the time that you would have used backspacing or erasing or otherwise fixing little mistakes along the way (or doing things peripheral to, but ultimately distracting from, the task at hand), it will probably add up to a lot more time than you would like to admit.
There may be thoughts in your head that don’t get a chance to make it onto the page because you focused your attention to editing or something else, to something like writing down another idea as it pops into your head. Now your focus is on your to-do list rather than the subject you were initially writing about. Now you’ve broken your momentum. There were thoughts in your head about the subject you had started a flow of writing on, but you broke that stream of consciousness and aborted something that might have turned into a good bit of writing.
Just keep going. That is the important thing. You did the hard work of showing up, now you have to do the hard work of keeping solid focus and finding your flow state. You’ve sat down to do the work, you’ve eliminated distractions, now the really hard part is undoing that thing that has become such a habit in your creative life and every other part of your life. You have to turn off the part that wants to “fix it now.” If you’re a perfectionist like me, this is a deep-seated habit. But your work with will thank you for it if you just let yourself get into that flow state. Dive into the work distraction-free, without the pressure to be perfect, and you’ll be surprised what comes out of you. You could have pages and pages that would have remained in your head if you were editing along the way. You could make something much more beautiful than your editing hands normally allow if you can force yourself to turn off your editor brain, to let your brain go where it wants to go, unencumbered by the pursuit of perfection. Perfection is not the goal. Perfection is the enemy of done. Ge get the important work done. Edit later. So what if you waste a canvas? It’s a first draft of an idea. You can paint it again better if you want to. The important thing was that you tried it on the page. You tried it on the canvas. You brought it into existence. There is absolutely nothing wasted if you write a super messy first draft. You do, however, risk wasting an awful lot if you edit as you go and don’t get all of the gems in your mind onto the page.
I imagine someone panning for gold. You can’t find all the gold out there. Know that going in. But if you want to find the quality gold, you don’t walk along the river bank hoping to find one perfect nugget of gold. You grab a ton of sand and sift through it. You take a pan full of dirt and let the current take it. You let the river do the work until you’re left with lots of little bits of gold to sift through later. Then you compile all those tiny flecks into something valuable. But you can’t find the flecks unless you sift through the sand, and you’ll never see them if your only goal is to find perfectly formed nuggets on the bank.
Similarly, if wheat harvesters walked through the field and gathered individual grains, at the end of the day they will not have even gathered enough usable grain to feed themselves. Instead, they glean whole stalks at a time. Later, they separate out the usable grain by allowing the wind to blow away the unusable chaff.
First you think bigger and just go forward. Go with the flow without worrying about precision. Later, you can pick and choose what you want use and what you want to throw away. You are a gleaner and a gold miner, but only if you don’t waste your time expecting a perfect end product to fall in your lap. It’s important to get the crud out of the way to uncover the good stuff. Send your inner editor on vacation so you can just WRITE WRITE WRITE (or draw, or paint, or whatever it is you’re passionate about doing). That flow state is where you want to be.
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