I’m staring at a blank screen. Blank. I’m stuck on stop and I need to move to go.
If you’ve ever aspired to write, you know the feeling. If you’ve ever aspired to any goal, business, personal, or health, you know the feeling. The easiest thing in the world is to stay put. Starting is hard. You want (whatever it is) to be great. You want it to be beautiful. You want it to be perfect.
Guess what? It may never be truly great. It may not be beautiful. And it’s for sure never going to be perfect. In fact, unless you start, it may never be, period. So this is your permission slip to start ugly.
Neil Strauss has written eight New York Times bestsellers, including The Game and The Truth. He’s also been an editor at Rolling Stone and a staff writer for the New York Times. This is from his interview with Tim Ferriss, excepted in Ferriss’ book Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers.
“The key is temporarily dropping your standards.”
Writer’s block – or any kind of block – is really about perfectionism, a form of procrastination I’ve written about before. Strauss says that the most helpful writing advice he’s gotten is a mantra: “Two crappy pages per day.” That’s it – that’s all you have to hold yourself to. Strauss says sometimes that’s all he can do.
“If you hit two crappy pages, even if you never use them, you can feel “successful” for the day. Sometimes you barely eke out two pages, and they are truly terrible. But at least 50% of the time, you’ll produce perhaps 5, 10, or even—on the rare miracle day—20 pages. Draft ugly and edit pretty.”
Allowing yourself to start ugly and holding the bar for success so low takes away every excuse you have for not working on your goals. Write two crappy pages. Run one lousy block. Bend over and touch your toes once. Drink one glass of water. Make one sales call and get turned down.
It doesn’t have to be great, or even good, to count. Doing small things can make a big difference over time. Enough small steps will eventually get you to your destination. A good life is built with small steps that don’t feel glamorous in the moment.
Brianna Wiest, writing for Forbes online about microhabits, says:
Aspirational tropes want you to believe that living your best life is like running a victory lap every day. In reality, it is more like being willing to tend to the unglamorous maintenance of things, like chores, cleaning, healthy cooking, staying current on bills and work assignments, or making time for exercise.
The quality of your life will be directly and drastically improved if you can incorporate necessary maintenance into your daily routine, and learn to see it as something that helps you rather than hinders you from having a great time.
Wiest says: “The point is that if you want to have a completely different life in a year or two, you need to start now, and you need to start small.”
And it’s okay if it isn’t pretty.