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Stop Overthinking and Start Working

Be more like Joyce Carol Oates with these two simple rules

Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash
“If you feel that you just can’t write, or you’re too tired, or this, that, and the other, just stop thinking about it, and go and work. Life doesn’t have to be so overthought. You don’t have to wait to be inspired. Just start working.”— Joyce Carol Oates

We’ve been programmed to believe we need to be inspired to write.

You need that muse. You need to be motivated to write. You need to be in the zone. You need to be in a mood. You need to have your coffee. You need to eat. You need to be focused. You need quiet. You need the library. You need a nice notebook. You need a new pen. You need, you need, you need… the list is endless.


Rule # 1 — All you NEED is to do the work. You don’t need anything to start writing. And you definitely don’t need a list of excuses every time you write.

You’re doing anything but writing.

We tend to overthink and kill our writing before starting. We overthink because we fear failure. We fear criticism. We fear judgment. So we prejudge our work and stall.

Our fear of failure ensures failure — nothing else.

You fail because you’re too scared of failing.

We fail by wasting time, overthinking, and making excuses. We fail by not putting in the work.

Joyce Carol Oates is a writing icon. She has authored 60 novels and won 27 awards, including the National Book Award, the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence, O. Henry Awards, the National Humanities Medal, the 2019 Jerusalem Prize, and the 2020 Cino Del Duca World Prize for Literature.

She didn’t write 60 novels by sitting around and making excuses. She definitely didn’t win 27 awards and became nominated for 16+ more by waiting for the right time to write.


Rule # 2 — Editing is part of the work

“Revision is 99% of art.” — Joyce Carol Oates

Some people mistake the advice of simply writing and doing the work with simply shipping crap.

That’s not the case. Editing is part of the work.

Doing the work doesn’t mean that you’ll publish anything that comes to mind. It doesn’t mean you try to publish any crap.

It definitely doesn’t mean you skip editing.

It means you do your best at the current moment you’re in. It might be crap for now, but at least you did your best, and your writing will improve with every attempt.

Oates also explains that editing allows you to tap into the subconscious.

“The pull of the unconscious is very powerful, and the more we can let that fuel what we’re doing the more potent it is, also the more enjoyable for the writer.” — Joyce Carol Oates

You skip on editing; you lose that experience.


This post was inspired by Oates’s interview with Tim Ferriss. You can listen to it here.

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