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** Fair warning: Self-fluency has been known to lead to extremely subversive behavior, including treasuring yourself unconditionally, unapologetically taking up space, experiencing outrageously improbable levels of self-acceptance, and general rejoicing in aliveness.

 

Blogging therapy: When perfectionism strikes

Number five in our Tuesday series on how to take some of the scary out of blogging (or of anything else)

If you want to catch up — though of course you don’t have to — start with these:
Part 1. What if people are mean to me?
Part 2. What if I throw a party and no one shows up?
Part 3. Why even bother when there are already other people doing it better?
Part 4. What do I saaaaaaaaaaaaaaay?

Today we’re talking about what to do when perfectionism strikes. The whole how can I write when nothing I say is good enough? problem.

This actually hadn’t been planned as part of the original series but last week a friend had a blogging emergency — Ahem, We interrupt this blogging series for a blogging emergency — so I decided we’d sneak it in.

Good thing too because it’s a pretty big deal. Perfectionism being, of course, an old friend here at The Fluent Self. Hello, I’m the one who took a year and a half just to get ready to start blogging.

And, as always, this isn’t really about blogging. It’s about working on your “stuff” and meeting yourself where you are.

So even if blogging holds zero interest for you — or if you’re a total rockstar who scoffs at my still-over-100,000 Alexa ranking — you’ll probably be able to find some useful stuff in here that you can apply to whatever else you’re working on.

Ack! Perfectionism! Stucknesses! Blogging emergency!

What it looks like …

My gentleman friend received the following email this week from a (mutual) friend:

I can’t do this! I’ve been trying to write all afternoon and am too much of a perfectionist. I can’t get more than a paragraph. Aaaargh! How does Havi do this every day?

And, since my gentleman friend is the sweetest, most compassionate person I’ve ever met, he came running to me and my duck to ask for help.

Since I’m not the sweetest, most compassionate person, I rolled my eyes and said, “There is no such thing as a blogging emergency.”

This is actually a reference to our friend’s husband who is semi-famous in a very small circle for having once said, “There is no such thing as a sex toy emergency.”

But it turned out that he was wrong, and if you extend the logic, so am I. Anyway, Selma and I decided to step up to the plate and pretend that we’re decent friends.

Back to the point.

Yeah. Perfectionism does make blogging harder kills blogging.

And I’m saying that as someone who has agonized over her posts, complete with shaking fingers hovering over the publish button.

No fun. Let’s talk about this. First: some things to think about. And then three techniques.

Things to think about …

Blogging is for you, not for them.
Ignore all the annoying experts who want you to be “strategic” and focus on your “target market” and their “needs”.

You can think about that stuff later — if you want to — when you’re famous. Or when you’re in marketing mode. You don’t have to think about it now.

Right now this stuff is getting in the way.

Instead, let your blog exist for you. It’s a place for you to practice being yourself. Out loud. But as quietly as you want. In tiny, tiny doses. Without everything you say having to mean something.

Start thinking about it as therapy that you don’t have to pay for.
The answer to the “How does Havi do this?” question is that Havi thinks of writing posts or bits of posts as a healing practice.

It’s just one part of her morning ritual.

Like meditating or making a cup of tea, it’s something I do for myself … something where the whole point of doing it to make me feel better.

Sometimes what I’ve written turns out not to be something I’d ever want to publish. In that case, it works like a journal entry. And sometimes what I’ve written goes out to you. Either way, I took conscious, intentional time to be with myself, so yay.

And stop thinking about it as a performance.
No one is judging you but yourself. And if they are? You don’t want them there.

You can always delete any post you don’t like!
And anyway, stuff disappears in the stream. You write. You write more. It all flows into the ocean. Things won’t disappear, but they also just won’t be as close to the surface.

And three techniques to play with …

Because yeah, food for thought isn’t bad, but it’s more fun to have something to actually do.

Pretend you’re writing an email.

What you want to do is to write each post as if it were an email. You can even write it in your email program. It could be a letter to a dear friend. Or it’s to a client who’s just asked you a really powerful question.

Either way, you feel comfortable being yourself and writing pretty much the way you’d talk.

Why this technique is helpful: usually when perfectionism shows up it’s saying things like “this isn’t good enough because you’re not a real expert” or “there isn’t anything useful here”.

But when you’re writing to a friend you don’t need to be an expert or to have something useful to say. You’re already being useful by showing up and giving love and responding to their pain.

That is how blogging should work. It’s valuable because you’re there. The value recedes when you’re lecturing people or distancing yourself from them.

Talk it out.

Some of us just don’t really write all that easily. So what you might do is take a theme or a question and just start talking it out. Out loud. And record yourself.

Nothing fancy or complicated. You can use a freebie calling service like Calliflower or FreeConferenceCall.com. You’ll get a number to call, and then you call in and just start talking until you’ve said what you have to say.

Then you could use Voice to Text software (a one-time investment of about a hundred dollars and totally worth it) to turn it into a blog post. Instant post! All you need to do is to edit.

Or if you have a recording you really like, you could podcast the result and give people the audio to listen to instead of a written blog post.

(Though — being a perfectionist and all — you probably won’t! We’ll work on that later.)

The journaling method.

One of my friends has a secret semi-non-existent blog that no one knows about. Yet. Because she’s practicing. She writes each post in a word document or a text file and leaves them on her computer.

This is the “dipping your toes into the ocean” method, and while it’s not for everyone, it’s working great for her.

When she started, it was all hard. The writing. The editing. The deciding on a topic. The casually mentioning to me that she might eventually get around to maybe starting a blog.

But now she talks about it all the time. She shares her posts-to-be with me. She’s even kinda sorta having fun with it. Easing into it. Which is fine.

I also keep some of my posts to myself. They don’t all have to go out to the world!

One final point: Perfectionism is not the enemy.

It’s just your “stuff” showing up. It’s fear and anxiety and a little guilt that have not yet been acknowledged and so they’re keeping you stuckified. We’ve talked about this.

Your perfectionism wants you to be this perfect, polished expert so that you can feel safe. It thinks it’s protecting you. But it’s actually ensuring that you either a. won’t have a blog or b. that your blog will be boring and stilted.

If this is freaking you out, no worries. We’ll be talking next week about the “But I’m not a #@%& expert!” issue. Maybe by then I’ll learn how to fake curse with little symbol things too.

In the meantime, try saying this to your perfectionism:

“Honey, I appreciate that you’re trying to protect me, but what I really need right now is to feel safe and supported. So I’m asking you to either give me some encouragement or to not say anything at all.”

Perfectionism is not the enemy. Perfectionism is another life pattern that you can spend some time deconstructing. It’s a reminder that you still have stuff to work on.

It’s a reminder of your need to feel safe and loved.

Which is human and beautiful and not a bad thing at all.

If you have enough resources already, ignore this last bit
If taking patterns apart and replacing them with better ones is something that speaks to you … this is something I go way into depth on in the Procrastination Dissolve-o-matic — and of course you’re already working with my crazy brain-training techniques, right?

The blogging therapy series continues next Tuesday with “But I’m not an expert!” Until then we’ll be talking about habits and patterns and how to change them. Stuff like that.

22 Responses to Blogging therapy: When perfectionism strikes

  1. Awesome post Havi. Some great tips. Thanks.

    One tip to never get stuck while writing: don’t start with the beginning. Start with the end. Its what I call the “maze” writing technique.

    The quickest and easiest way to solve those maze puzzles is by starting with the end. Its the same with writing. Once you have the end in mind, everything else becomes easy. Most writers struggle only because they don’t know the ending yet.

    Figure out the ending before you start writing and writers block and perfectionism and finding the flow etc won’t interfere much.

  2. Ken Wagner says:

    I love the series, Havi.

    It’s amazing how long it takes me to write 700 words when I know it will be “published.” I need to trust that I will naturally express something worthwhile in a semi-coherent manner.

    I know folks who tense up the minute they focus on their breathing.

    That said, good writing is hard work. The effort is part of the fun. No one would take apart and reassemble their motorcycle or compulsively photograph manhole covers if it weren’t, well, challenging.

    How to balance being good vs. being perfect? I’ll have to take that one up with my therapist. He’s a demanding bloke typing over in the corner.

    Ken Wagners last blog post..Childfree Marriage Advice – Parents Shouldn’t Ditch Their Pets After The Children Are Born

  3. Melissa says:

    I’m not sure I want to call the perfectionism in my “Honey” when I address it…. Probably something with more astricks and pound signs and exclaimation points. lol

    @Ankesh- that is a way I never thought to look at it, I always start mazes from the end. That would also explain why when I try to write a novel I can never write a beginning….

    Melissas last blog post..Mashed, Stewed, Fried Brains

  4. Charlie says:

    I lurv this series. Why I said lurv instead of love is another story for another day.

    When people talk to me about having difficulties writing their blog, I usually start by asking them who they’re writing to. It’s not quite your advice about letting the blog be there for you, so I’ll jump on your later thread since it’s more relevant to what I’m saying.

    Too many of us try to write a post for everybody, and we can’t. We can only write for discrete people with particular wants and needs. Your post today is written to someone who’s stuck with the perfectionism curse – it resounds well to them. You can answer them. You can think about what they might be thinking.

    When we try to write to everyone, we fail because we can’t know what they’re thinking or feeling. We either don’t know how to answer them or we try to answer everybody. We can’t resonate with “them” because what resonates with people is pretty narrow.

    So write to a friend. Write to your cat. Write to Selma. Hell, write to me. But write to one person whose face you can see in your mind’s eye. Who you can see smiling and nodding. Who you can see confused, sad, scared, stumped, or frustrated.

    Whatever you do, don’t write for “a reader.” Oh, and what works for blogging works for any writing.

    Thanks for making me smile today.

    Charlies last blog post..Why GTD Contexts Are More Work Than They’re Worth (For Me)

  5. Dave Navarro says:

    Good, good, good stuff.

    Writing in natural voice is the best thing I ever decided to do on my blog. Makes life MUCH easier.

    Stumbled!

    Dave Navarros last blog post..Why Your Resoultions Never Change Anything (And The One Thing That Does)

  6. Carole says:

    I LOVE the “write it as an email” tip!!

    I did that with one post, but only by accident: I wrote an email to my sister-in-law, then decided it would make a good blog post, so I copied and pasted it, minus the “Hi Deb!”

    I don’t know why I haven’t done more like that, especially since that one worked so well….

    Also, it’s really nice to hear that my Perfectionism doesn’t have to be the enemy…. Everybody talks about it like it’s some evil thing, but I LIKE it! Even when it sometimes keeps me from getting things done, I still don’t want it to go away, and I’d be sad if it did….

  7. steph says:

    “Honey, I appreciate that you’re trying to protect me, but what I really need right now is to feel safe and supported. So I’m asking you to either give me some encouragement or to not say anything at all.”

    WHOA!!

    Can I say this to my family and friends too?

    :)

    I really, really dig this talking to our fear and perfectionism and anything else that “stuckifies” us. It takes out the fight, and that in itself is *such* a relief!

    stephs last blog post..What I Know for Sure, No. 2

  8. Havi Brooks
    Twitter: havi
    says:

    Good stuff, you guys!

    @Steph – Yes! I think healthy communication between people looks exactly like healthy communication between us and our stucknesses.

    It’s all mirror reflections as we Shivanauts say.

    Taking out the fight is what it’s all about. Neutralizing and diffusing instead of giving in. It’s like, screw fight or flight. Those *can’t* be my only options in every situation …

    @Charlie – I lurv your insights. Everyone write posts with Charlie in mind! He’s very easy to talk to. Or to Carole’s sister Deb …

    @Dave – You’re so right about it making everything easier. I didn’t emphasize that enough but yeah, writing how you talk is more appealing and you don’t have to work at it so hard.

    @Ankesh – Terrific suggestion. I’ve never used that but will keep it in mind. Love it.

    @Ken & @Melissa – You both cracked me up completely. And yeah, no need to whisper terms of endearment in your perfectionism’s ear or anything. When I say “honey” it’s usually in a pretty exasperated way!

  9. Deb Owen says:

    This is so fantastic!

    Actually, I started blogging without thinking twice about it. (Well, the 2nd time. The 1st time was years and years ago.) But I started it for me. (In fact, I wrote a post about that very thing called “if you build it, will they come?” a long long time ago.)

    Anyway, I was just writing for me and it turned into this whole other thing. Sometimes, I wish I’d been more ‘strategic’ about it or thought through things more. (Because I feel like it’s my ‘silly little blog about everything and nothing’ — ha.)

    But the payoffs I’ve experienced through blogging are pretty amazing.

    And really? I’ve never been a big fan of that ‘good writing’ idea. Write your stuff. Write in your voice. People who like you will find you. ;-)

    All the best!
    deb

    Deb Owens last blog post..my father told me if you don’t vote, you have to shut up

  10. James | Dancing Geek
    Twitter: dancing_geek
    says:

    #1 reason I want to move my blogspot blog to wordpress?

    Private posts.

    I’ve found myself half writing posts and so on because time at my computer always feels better for me than time spent scribbling in a book. Both offer the same practices, but I type better & faster than I write so the flow is much easier to get into, stay in and keep up with the babble in my head. Plus, hello, editing is WAY easier!

    So that’s sorted then, my personal blog becomes my personal journal with some published where appropriate. And that feeling that comes up that I need to make sure I’m writing something that will help someone else? Well, I’ll have to work on letting go of that, but if I can change the focus to writing to explain to (must find someone to put here – I’m assuming it can differ from post to post) that should still stop it from being rambling, self piteous babbling. Even rambling, explanatory babbling is better ;)

    So a quick revision is in order:

    #1 reason I’m going to move my blogspot blog to wordpress?

    Private posts

    James | Dancing Geeks last blog post..Time’s a ticking on this one…

  11. tulasi-priya says:

    A year and a half getting ready to blog? I’ve been futzing around with blogging for over SEVEN years, with only two published posts to my name. I even lost a blog somewhere because I started so many I forgot what I had.

    It’s taken the near-threat of divorce (not because of blogging, for other reasons) to get me to take myself a little more seriously and WRITE. I’m still not sure I’ll be able to go through with it. Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art is pushing me in that direction, and this blog is total inspiration!

  12. Sarah Lacy says:

    I loved this. Needed it this morning, as I’m writing a post that as I reread, seems to make no sense :)

    But really, can we please, please do a post about “OMG I’M NOT AN EXPERT NO ONE WILL LISTEN TO ME!” ? Because I need some of that, if I decide to go do what I want to go do, except I’m not a an expert so maybe I can’t do it?

    I massacred that sentence. Apologies. :)

    Sarah Lacys last blog post..Lost: Identity. Found: Scared 12 year old.

  13. Tatty Franey
    Twitter: tattyfraney
    says:

    this series about blogs is really really good!

    but i’m with sarah here, was going to say exactly what she did. cause my new fear is that i’m not good enough to be starting up this business of mine and no one will come to me and OMG bla bla bla – you get the idea…

  14. James Hipkin says:

    Nice post.

    I appreciated the email tip. This is how I start most of my posts. While waiting for the train to take me into the office I think about what I want to write. I also use Jott to record ideas when they occur throughout the day. Then I write the post as an email on the train. A bit of polish in the office as I finish my Starbucks and out it goes.

    Perfectionism is kept in check, as you suggest, by understanding why I blog. For me blogging is an opportunity to record and share the things I’ve learned that have helped me be successful and happy working in what can be a tough business, advertising. I hope others find it interesting and worthwhile but that’s not my main motivation.

    Looking forward to the next installment.

    James

    James Hipkins last blog post..Warning – Art Direction Run Amok

  15. I like the email technique, it’s a helpful way to make writing easier. One tip for Blogger or WordPress users, you can set up your blog to post to it by email. So you stop blogging, you just write emails and send them.

  16. EVA says:

    Hi Havi and Selma,

    Thank you. I very much enjoyed this post. Having very recently started a blog, it reinforced a few things for me. First that it was for me – to find my voice, practice being myself – out loud (and in tiny doses!) I love that you said that. I have wondered if I should try to be more focused on my (non-existent) readers but that didn’t seem right for me at this point.

    I also am following a similar technique to your friend – writing in a private livejournal.com blog first. Then posting the entries I feel most comfortable with on my public blogspot. Learning. Slowly.

    “Pretend you’re writing an email.” I like that. I think it will help. Thanks!

    That you think of your blog as your morning writing ritual and journal (with some private entries we don’t see) makes it and you seem all the more real a person, Havi.

    P.S.
    If I have learned this how to do this properly, here are a couple of my friends who want to say hi to Selma and you. (And if it doesn’t show I have more learning to do!)
    [http:[email protected]/3013677406/?eOrig=3012836209]

    EVAs last blog post..The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

  17. Roia says:

    Hello there,
    I just wanted to say how much I appreciate your post and all your commenters comments. It’s nice to know there are piles of people out there in the land of blogging who struggle terribly with perfection. Heavy sigh.

    Thanks for the lovely tips.
    Sending you all peace and non-perfectionism in the new year,
    Roia

    Roias last blog post..

  18. Shawn Tuttle
    Twitter: shawnprojectsimplify.com
    says:

    Hi Havi,

    First time poster on your site. Thanks for the series. I’m just now stumbling across it after learning about your site last week. Luvvvv your voice shining through your writing. My admiration for your writing was exactly for the reasons you’re addressing in the series–though I didn’t know about the series at the time.

    One trick that I play with myself (in addition to the email or letter written to a good friend!) is to start by hand-writing. Something about pen on paper is more freeing for my ole noggin’ than fingers on keyboard. All I can figure is that the freedom and fluidity to draw lines, play in different heights and weights, pictures etc. unleashes the flow–well, a lot of the time anyways =)

    Thanks for all of your support and encouragement!!

    Shawn

  19. Caroline says:

    Ahhhh yes. Write as if you were writing an e-mail. In the instant I read that I realised I was hectoring people, standing on a soap-box, yelling “pay attention! This really matters!” and of course who would notice that. Or show that they did. And naturally, I upped the volume. Sigh…

    So yes, write as if I were writing to a friend in an e-mail. The ideas will flow, there will be more room for understanding, and less shrillness. Or at least, that’s the hope!

    thanks…

    Carolines last blog post..When a company loses its customer’s values to win a legal point

  20. Jill
    Twitter: orangecatart
    says:

    I’ve been reading this series while I consider starting a blog, but something in this article has touched me in another way.

    “Blogging is for you, not for them.”

    Take out the word blogging, and substitute any creative endeavor. I’m an art photographer, and where perfectionism catches me is somewhere between looking at the images on my computer and getting them onto paper. My perfectionism says, “it is not quite right, no one will buy it, etc…”

    If I remember that photography is for me, the images I like turn out to be the ones that other people like, too. It has happened before; it will happen again.

    Thank you for the reminder, Havi.

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