Here is the single most useful piece of writing advice I’ve ever heard, and I apologise for not thinking of posting it sooner. It came from my PhD supervisor, lo these many years ago, and it really helped me to get started in earnest on writing my thesis.
If you’re procrastinating, blocked, or otherwise having serious difficulties starting a piece of writing, it may well be because you’re a perfectionist. You’re possibly unsure of what exactly is required of the piece – the scope, the tone, the structure, the length – and your perfectionist little brain won’t let you start working on something that it knows won’t meet your high standards.
If this happens to you: just start writing. Dive straight into that first draft. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Perfect is the enemy of the good*, but it doesn’t even have to be good. Not at this stage, anyway.
The trick is to make your perfectionism work for you, rather than against you, by shifting it to a different stage of the writing process. Trust yourself: trust that if you put your perfectionist tendencies aside during the drafting process, they’ll still be there later, waiting for you, and will kick in during the editing phase. You will, inevitably, re-read your
dodgy imperfect first draft, recognize the flaws, and start to restructure, reword, fill in gaps, cut unnecessary sections, lather, rinse, repeat. C’mon – you’re a perfectionist! You just know you won’t put up with an imperfect draft for long! You’ll whip it’s arse into shape in no time!
Of course, you then have to turn your perfectionism back off again after a final thorough editing and proofreading, because otherwise you’ll never submit the damn thing.
Blog posts are excellent training in this regard. I’ll publish a blog post at a waaaaay earlier stage than when sending a document to my boss or another colleague. I might notice the occasional typo or clumsy wording, and go back and tweak once it’s posted… but then again, I might get lucky and have comments to respond to instead. Which is much more fun, obviously.