Australian Government,  Blog post,  Communications professional

Why do we overthink when writing?

I was talking to a friend last week about how hard she was finding it to write a blog for a uni assignment. She had written and rewritten the piece, agonised over every word. Mulled on the themes. And was going home to do it all again. She wanted to know how I did it – sat down and shared my inner thoughts with the world on a regular basis without getting hung up on every word. Here’s the secret I do.

I don’t know if it’s a communications trait. A female trait. Or just a personality trait. But a lot of people I know come to a grinding halt with their writing because they are overthinking.

It’s a killer. You completely freeze, losing all self-confidence in what you are trying to say.

Often (like with this article) I start out strong and then get to about the third or fourth paragraph and think – will anyone even care? Is what I am writing even worthy of attention? What if everyone hates it?

But it’s not just about blogs, we do it at work as well. Agonising over a Ministerial brief, an internal email, a newsletter article. We know the subject, but our brain overthinks every word and sentence, the format, the structure.

Now, I am a big believer in proofreading your work, but you don’t want to get so stuck in your head that you can’t finish, or you miss a deadline.

Often we overthink because we want our writing to be perfect. We have an image in mind of how we should look when writing and how we should sound when we type it in. Reality check – it never works like that!

The key is finding the right balance between writing well, and agonising over every single word, which can potentially make your writing worse.

As a perpetual overthinker, this is not my area of expertise but having done a lot of writing in the last year and here are a few things I have learnt:

  • Know where you need help – A lot of my issues come from a lack of confidence. Identify the area you know is your weak spot and find a way to compensate it. This will help give you some level of confidence. For example, if grammar is not your jam then get a tool like Grammarly and let it take away some of the stress.
  • Ask a friend to review – Take it out of your hands and ask someone you trust to read over your work for you. The trick is then committing to that version being the last one.
  • Set yourself a time limitFor the first year of business I wrote a blog every week, this gave me a clear deadline to finish writing. By Sunday night every week, I had to have something written and loaded into my website. A deadline puts some pressure on and doesn’t allow you to just keep going, over and over and over…
  • Just start – If your problem is you are can’t even get words onto paper because you are over thinking the narrative, the structure, the angle – just start writing. Don’t worry about how it sounds or if it even makes sense just start writing words. Get into the habit of writing and then go back and refine. Building momentum is better than planning the perfect story.
  • Know when to let go. Does this Ministerial brief have to go through five more people before it is sent off? Then just send it. Are you missing dinner at home because you are doing ‘one more review’? Press send. There will be few times when you have the luxury of taking your leisurely time on a piece of work. Instead of overthinking and delaying pressing send learn when to stop and say enough.

Ok so enough procrastinating! Go write. Press send. And go home (or to the couch).  

PS – if you need some more writing tips there is a writing checklist on my website.

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