One of my earliest lessons as a writer was to stop overthinking it.
I was interning at a major teen magazine and had a great story idea that I felt its audience would deeply connect with.
My manager agreed and asked me to write up a pitch by the end of the day workday. It was already after 4 p.m. I had to do this fast.
I sat down and began writing. My story poured out on to the paper. It was raw and real, but straight to the point.
There was no time to overthink this — until I got back to my tiny New York apartment that night. The walls were closing in (literally and figuratively). Did I just turn in the most haphazard pitch for my first big attempt at journalism?
I was scared, so I started writing again. Re-writing what I wrote earlier, I wanted to be ready for the next day when surely they would ask more of me.
When I showed my manager, she told me to throw that second attempt in the trash. The first one was the right one. It was raw and real, and straight to the point.
It later would become a big piece for the magazine, with a cover line.
Defeating your inner
It’s just words on a screen. But, many years later, my inner editor still is one of my biggest bullies.
I fight with it all the time. It beats me down, and I have to pick myself up to get through the next piece.
It’s an exercise in torture (kidding, sort of). Truly, though, it’s a major time suck.
Here are some tactics I’ve learned to help me embrace the discomfort. These nine reminders help me write stronger pieces, and way more often. I’m also becoming a better, no-holds-barred editor of other people’s work.
1. The first step to addressing a problem is admitting you have one.
Hi, my name is Anna … and I have a writing insecurity problem.
But, really. The only way to write better and faster is to admit to yourself and fellow writers that you’re struggling.
It will help you hold yourself accountable to beat down that voice in your head. Plus, your writing crew may offer some good tips they’ve learned to help you overcome.
2. Think about it before you write, not during.
Some of my best ideas for how to frame a story come to me when I’m doing something completely unrelated, like driving or walking around my house or office.
To prevent falling victim to memory loss, I always jot down these thoughts as soon as I can inside a draft on the computer or in the notes app in my phone.
Even if I’m not planning on writing any time soon, it helps me to dive right in when I am ready. It helps reignite those light bulb moments to write more efficiently.
3. Fake it ’til you make it.
Let’s pretend you’re one of the most prolific writers in history, and it’s your job to churn out killer work.
The people are waiting for your next great piece, so you better get to it.
By faking writer confidence and shifting your mentality to what you aspire to be, you may gain the nerve to power through your goals.
4. Adopt a new mantra: Write or die.
Sometimes the best thing for you is to increase the pressure by tightening your deadline. Like my teen magazine story above. Turning up the heat can reveal your rawest and most authentic writing.
It helps you get out of your own way.
“Oftentimes pressure comes because there’s not enough time. But that can also be a blessing in disguise,” says Cheryl Family, an SVP at Viacom Catalyst, in this article on creativity under pressure. “When there’s no time, you can’t overthink it, and there’s no time for others to meddle and water it down. It allows for clarity of vision.”
5. Or, abandon ship. ASAP.
Depending on your mood or personality, tightened deadlines could be the wrong approach. Increased pressure can sink some people’s ships.
If stress has you staring at a blank screen longer than usual, decrease the pressure and take a walk.
You can always start again later.
6. Use placeholders when you just can’t find the right words.
Instead of hovering over a sentence until the sun goes down, implement a fill-in strategy that helps you move beyond writer’s block.
This is my secret writer superpower. Except it’s not so secret.
As a young magazine writer, I was trained to write “TK” to indicate that information or text is “to come.” Use this tactic — or “TBD” or “fill in” — when you can’t find the right words, and keep writing like nothing ever happened.
It’s against our nature to leave blank spaces — especially as writers. But with some practice, this will allow you to continue forward without breaking your flow.
7. If you have a real editor, trust that they will help you.
Some writers have a hard time trusting their editors. But, it’s super freeing when you do.
My ideal scenario is to hand every piece to my editor with little work to be done (and I’m sure she agrees). But, it’s not realistic.
Allow your work to be turned in sometimes in a less-than-perfect state. Editors usually love to wield their red pen and work their magic.
Just don’t make it a habit to send sloppy copy, or your new BFF will become your mortal enemy.
8. Capitalize on the moments when the words just flow.
When the words are flowing with ease, wrap an extra story or two into your timeline. Or, use that momentum to outline some other ideas you’ve been sitting on.
Just. Keep. Going.
Racking up those extra (unplanned) bylines will help boost your confidence and get you the practice you need to write more freely.
9. Treat your inner editor like an actual person who works for you.
Your inner editor now is a staff member.
As long as they are an asset, you can keep them on board. If they have bad habits, it’s time to coach them out.
Most of the time though, they can be trained. So, keep a watchful eye on your editor to make sure they aren’t harming your bottom line: to get more writing done.
How do you defeat your inner editor?
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Anna Jasinski is senior manager of audience relations at PR Newswire and former magazine journalist. Follow her on Twitter at @annamjasinski. You can also catch her sharing the latest news in journalism and blogging on @BeyondBylines.