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Overcoming Self Criticism

Many writers who might well have a successful career ahead of them never get to publication because they can’t let go of their manuscript. Striving for some vague goal of perfection, they spend weeks and even years fine-tuning their manuscripts. Nothing ever seems good enough and they live in fear of the public reading their words.

It took me years to move past that problem. Until I did, my manuscripts took up space in my file cabinet, but never went out. Finally, a mentor gave me a firm deadline and made me send out a story. I was terrified, but over time, this has become easier and easier.

To begin, you need to turn off your inner-critic, a well-known and deadly foe of all writers. You can train yourself to do this. Start a writing project—anything will do. Assign a full half hour to it each day. Set a timer and write nonstop the entire half hour. You may not change anything but typos for the entire thirty minutes. For that particular project, you may not edit anything for a full month. It will drive you crazy at first—it did me—but it works. You’ll learn to focus on content and ideas, not details.

Next, set specific deadlines for each project. If you have an article due in seven days, set a schedule—this many days for research, this many for writing, and this many for editing. Stick to it faithfully and when time is up, send it out no matter how you feel about it. There comes a time when tinkering will no longer make it better, but until you have more confidence, you won’t know when that time is, so a deadline is your best defense. If you are very nervous, set a very specific time. When I mailed out my first manuscript, I said, “I will drop it into the mailbox on my way to my meeting Wednesday night.” That meant it had to be packaged up before I had to get ready to leave. Tell yourself, “I may not edit this again after 3:00 PM on Tuesday.” At three sharp, stop editing.

Now you have to work on your attitude. More hard as it might seem to face, your words mean far more to you than they do to anyone else. Think about what happens when you read most articles. You read them, think, “Good ideas,” and go on to the next thing. You don’t notice the author’s name unless it’s someone terribly famous, and there is a good chance you won’t remember the article in a few days. Don’t be offended. That’s just how it is. For that reason, while you want your words to be good, they don’t have to be literature. If you write well enough to have an article accepted, you write well enough for the average reader to be satisfied with your writing.

One way to get used to having your words read is to start a website or blog with regular weekly or daily articles. After a time, you get so used to meeting that deadline, you no longer worry about writing perfect pieces. Set a schedule and post new material on deadline as if a boss were looking over your shoulder. Don’t stall just because you can. You’ll find most people won’t write to you about the fancy wording or perfectly crafted text. They will email you about your ideas, and that will help you learn to focus on that part of your writing.
Okay, stop reading and set your deadline!

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