This recent comment has stayed with me (be sure to check out the commenter’s fun “about” page and her recent post on making changes when we’re older):

[I]t’s very useful to be reminded it actually takes very little effort to begin a writing exercise. And that it doesn’t have to be any good.

That last part is so important to remember: Often we never begin––whether it’s a big or small writing project––because of the mistaken idea that we need to get it perfect the first time. One of the best discussions on this topic comes from Anne Lamott in her must-read book on writing, Bird by Bird:

On Shitty First Drafts: All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. People tend to look at successful writers, writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially, and think that they sit 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 necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this 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.”

So, when you sit down today to write, remember that if you feel unsure of yourself and your talent, discouraged by the naysayers (whether out there or in your head), and terrified of not getting it right, know that all writers feel the same way. Your job is simply to write, imperfectly at first, maybe even incompetently at times. You can fix it later.

I see this issue time and time again in my college classes. Often even very talented students don’t give themselves a chance of doing their best work because they think their first draft has to be good. So they put off writing their essays and reports until their only choice is to hand in their first draft as a final draft because they’ve left themselves no time for revision.

For even more inspiration on messy beginnings and the value of planning, see J. K. Rowling’s revision of the plan of Order of the Phoenix, and be sure to look at the screenshot image of Rowling’s chart and changes.