This Writer’s Life: Overcoming perfectionism and finding the love of writing

Sonya SiglerNote from Jenna: This guest post from one of the fabulous writers in my online Writer’s Circle coaching program: Sonya Sigler. In this article Sonya talks how she’s set herself up for ongoing success with her writing, despite her “love-hate” relationship with it (which so many of us have!).


My Love-Hate Relationship with Writing

Putting good habits in place to find more of the love

by Sonya Sigler

I love, love, love the finished product from writing. I love hitting the publish button once I’ve written a blog post. I love submitting an article and hitting the send button before the deadline. I love seeing my work in print. I love to journal, for me and each of my kids (how else would I remember what they do on a daily basis?). Most of all, I love sharing knowledge and ideas with others through the written medium.

The big “but”

But, and this is a big but, I hate sitting down to write. Once I sit down to write, I apparently must send a big sign out to the universe to let the hemming and hawing begin, because once I sit down, the negative chorus in my head starts in, saying, “Why did you agree to do this?”

If I am at home, instead of writing, I’ll do the dishes and clean the kitchen. Or start a load of laundry. Or sweep and vacuum. If I’m at work, I clean my office, file things, or make phone calls. I check my email, I go on Facebook or LinkedIn to see what others are up to. I make a cup of tea, I look for food to eat (carbs, mostly, of course). I do ANYTHING but sit down and write!

In short, instead of sitting down to write, I procrastinate.

Why? Why do I procrastinate?

I procrastinate because I am letting perfect be the enemy of the good. I procrastinate because I want the entire article to be written in my head before I start. I procrastinate because I want my writing to convey the awesome ideas I have in my head – just as they appear in my head – elegant and articulate.

I procrastinate because I want my writing to be perfect.

Writing is a habit

What I’ve learned in the Writer’s Circle is that writing is a habit, and putting a good habit in place is the key to my writing success.

I’ve also learned that the writing habit is a constant and consistent process. I write a little every day. I have tons of ideas, so that isn’t the issue. For me, the issue is writing every day, consistently, for any amount of time. I now aim to write for five minutes a day.

I can hear you thinking now: “Five minutes, is that all?”

Yep, for me, that is the threshold of a set goal I can absolutely meet.

It’s also the amount time that motivates me to sit down and write. A target of 15 minutes of writing time was too high; I would blow it off, even though it was on my calendar. I would ignore it. I would say to myself, “Oh, you can write later this afternoon when you have more time.”



That wasn’t working for me.

To achieve the success with my writing I wanted, I had to set a small goal that I could consistently meet, every day. For me, five minutes was it. Five minutes was a writing routine that I could do consistently, no matter what.

Other tricks for writing success

In order to make it as easy as possible to meet my five minute daily goal, I use other tricks to make writing happen, like:

  • Bringing my writing with me. I take a journal with me when I pick up the kids and find that I have to wait.
  • Sitting down first thing in the morning after exercising to write for five minutes. I jot down ideas. I write one word, one sentence, or one paragraph at a time.
  • Keeping drafts in Evernote I can access from any device. I bring my iPad or iPad Mini with me so that I can write when I have five minutes.

Letting go of preconceived notions

I also found that for this new habit to sink in and stick that I had to let go of a few preconceived notions about writing, like the idea of perfect writing conditions. I had in my mind the perfect writing condition being a long stretch of time (read, at least 8 hours), that is quiet with no distractions or interruptions.

Yeah, right. When has that ever happened?


I also had to let go of the notion of “proper” writing. I’m an attorney. I do a lot of legal writing, a lot of writing for lawyers. I’ve had to let go of the idea that I am writing a formal or “proper” law review-like article with extensive footnotes and case citations. To let go of the notion of proper writing I’ve learned to keep my audience in mind so I can write in the voice for that particular audience, whether it is lawyers, technologists, moms, or entrepreneurs.

Lessening perfection to find the love

Changing my writing habit required a mind-shift – letting go of the notion that perfect writing conditions exist and letting go of the notion of always having to do “proper” writing. Changing my writing habit also required me to put a few things in place to make writing easy to say “Yes” to each day.

Now, I believe I can write whether I sit down for five minutes at a time or for an hour, and whether I sit down to write one word at a time or one sentence at a time. Sometimes the words all flow out at once, sometimes the writing is painstakingly done one word at a time.

In any case, eventually, it gets done. This awareness and shift in thinking helped lessen the grip of “perfection” on me and allows me to spend more time on the “love” side of writing!


Sonya Sigler is an executive coach, consulting in operations, legal, and business development with start-ups and other high-growth companies. She is a staunch advocate for women in technology and is focused on sharing practical advice. You can find her online at, view her LinkedIn profile, or follow her on Twitter @sonyasigler.


Thanks for reading!

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.





Big Dream Actioneering Report #1: Temper Tantrums & Excuses

Here’s my first official weekly check in for my “Big Dream” Actioneering. All I can say is, man alive. It’s really been two weeks, or something. Read on for details. I hope next time to be more brief. :)

It has been nothing if not interesting to observe myself and all the machinations I’ve gone through as I’ve brought myself closer to claiming my Big Dream of becoming a writer.

Here’s my update:


Well, for starters, as soon as I made the public commitment to write 4 times per week, I found myself in the quandary of putting on a live event and heading out of town, both of which required an extra level of preparation and definitely disrupted my normal routine.

Then, when we came back from L.A., I promptly came down with the “cold of the decade” and found myself completely uninterested and unwilling to write (or work, for that matter) while taking care of myself and my son, who was also sick. I promised myself that this week, I’d get back on track. And I did. Well, sort of.

Really, though, I see the cold as a giant temper tantrum. Julia Cameron describes a kriya (Sanskrit) in The Artist’s Way as “spiritual emergencies or surrender,” something designed to get our attention and say, hey, “Get it?”

I feel like this is a similar situation — On some level, I’m resisting doing the Big Writing because it terrifies me, so I choose to get sick and busy as a way to avoid doing it. Pretty creative, right?

It’s also fascinating to watch my inner critic pester me with, “it’s not creative enough, it’s not good enough,” etc.

Which reminds me, my 3rd submission, “The Gospel According to Lucky,” for the NYC Midnight Short Screenplay Challenge did not get me through to the next round, but I got some great feedback and decided I like the story enough to want to rewrite it.

So I sent it off to some writing friends for feedback, and holy smokes, did my inner critic ever go into overdrive. He (yes, my inner critic is a he) was going all crazy about why they hadn’t gotten back to me yet, that they hated it, that they were writing each other about how bad it was and couldn’t figure out what to say to me, etc. etc.

Luckily I didn’t buy it and busted my I.C. by telling my husband about what he was saying so we could both laugh at him.

One more little temper tantrum: I’m writing this on Saturday instead of Friday like I’d planned. Jeez.

Progress & Celebrations

The good news is that I DID work on my big screenplay (the title is in flux so I can’t tell you what it is yet) and I was able to outline the story even more. It’s a fascinating project. It seems like every time I sort out one bit of the story, I find 10 more unanswered questions to address. I swear this thing will just write itself once I get all these questions answered.

I’m also thrilled that I made it to the 3rd round of the NYC Midnight Short Screenplay Challenge. That was my goal and I met it. Woo-hoo! I also received some extremely helpful feedback from my writing buddy so I’m planning to rewrite that script soon. (No, he didn’t hate it, he said, “I dig the script.”)

Another thing I’m super happy about is watching my creative process around writing unfold. Who knew it would be this way? I certainly have my ups and downs, but I’m finding that I like to toss around ideas and play with them until I feel solid about the “big ideas” and then I start writing. I like that. :)

Plus, joy of all joys, my husband and I are writing a short story, called “Angel of Misfortune” for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. It’s due today. Can I tell you that ever since I met this man I’ve dreamed of us writing together? It’s so fabulous! And I think the story is pretty good. Oh joy. :)

What about you? What did you accomplish with your Big Dream this week? Join me with your challenges and celebrations in the comments below.


In the spirit of Havi Brooks’ “Comment Zen,” I have this request:

Since I am exploring how to be more transparent, raw, vulnerable, and in my full, messy delicious creative energy in my posts, here’s what I would love to hear:

  • How you personally are doing whatever I’m writing about for yourself.
  • How my writing sparks something for you.
  • About your own stories, ideas, musings, and wonderings.

And I would love to skip:

  • You feeling like you need to take care of me, give me useful suggestions, or other well-meaning but unsolicited advice.

Thank you!


p.s. I just had a brainstorm to do an Artist’s Way support group for a low monthly fee. Anyone interested? Let me know.

p.p.s. If you missed my free call on Friday on “Finding Your ‘Big Thing’,” you can check out the recording here.