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You would think that someone who has been writing for a living for far more than a decade wouldn’t have problems with writer’s block. You would be oh-so-wrong. Writer’s block plagues writers of all ability and experience levels.

Anne Lamott explains it so well in her classic Bird by Bird:

People tend to look at successful writers, writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially, and think that they are sitting down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their neck a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But that is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her.

Lawyers definitely suffer from writer’s block. The associate who says she’s having trouble finding cases, and that’s why the memo is late? Maybe so–or maybe she has been staring at her computer screen for a few moments, then running out to get coffee, going the gym, texting a friend–you name it. I’m not implying that associates are lazy. They’re scared. Scared that they will write a memo or brief that is less than perfect and brilliant. And of course, by putting it off, they’re creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Except when, at the 11th hour, they suddenly produce something staggeringly good. How can this be? Easy. Their inner critic finally got tied up and stuck in a corner by the imminent deadline, so they were finally able to write. Nothing like a crisis to really focus the mind.

There are as many strategies for short-circuiting the inner critic as there are writers in the world. One way is to quit aiming for perfection. The stakes become too high, and you become paralyzed. Accept that you are a mere mortal, and that your draft will, in all honesty, suck. It’s OK. You really can fix it later.

As a former boss of mine used to lecture me, “Perfect is the enemy of good.” (Exactly–I’m no fan of Good to Great.) If you keep aiming for perfection, you won’t write anything because you know it won’t be as perfect as you envision–so nothing gets done. I would go a step further and suggest you not even aim for good or decent in your first drafts; just aim for some ridiculously low number of words in a file.

You’ll be surprised at how quickly the pile of usable words, sentences and paragraphs grows, once you get out of your own way.

Jennifer Alvey is a writer, editor and recovering lawyer. She welcomes comments from recovering perfectionist writers, or those who want to be. She can be reached at jalvey[at]wordsolutions[dot]biz.