SONY DSC A few months ago, I met someone who was just starting out as a writer. Following the advice given to many aspiring writers, he decided to start a blog. But instead of getting down to work, he was obsessing about the details.

Details like what blogging platform to use, what themes and plugins to choose, the style of writing to adopt, whether or not to use images in his posts. And many, many other small, insignificant matters.

I told him outright that he was overthinking his blog, that he should just start writing and publishing, and worry about everything else later. To this day, though, he’s written a few fragmentary drafts and published nothing.

Overthinking is a trap that’s easy to fall into. When that happens, you become fixated on certain ideas and certain aspects of writing. When that happens, you can feel everything — coherence, structure, entire ideas — sliding into a deep chasm from which it can’t be salvaged.

Overthinking what you’re writing is a sure way to fail. Or, at least, it puts obstacles in your way and makes your work more difficult. More difficult than it needs to be. Writing is hard enough work without you adding to the difficulty.

Overthinking causes you to fall into what I the contingency mindset (the tendency to consider everything that might happen, all angles, and how to deal with them).

Overthinking paralyzes you. It stops you from acting. Instead of writing, you plan. And do some more planning. It can become an endless cycle. All that planning, all that overthinking doesn’t do you any good. You need to write. You need to press the Publish button.

What causes overthinking, and how to beat it

What causes you to overthink your writing? Sometimes it’s a lack of confidence in your abilities or in your ideas. Sometimes, it’s a feeling of being overwhelmed by the amount of work in front of you.

It can be hard to avoid overthinking at times. But you can beat that tendency.

How? By focusing on the core of what you’re trying to write.

You need to take a step back and ask yourself these questions (or questions like them):

  • Who will be reading this?
  • What information do they need or are they expecting?
  • How can I deliver that information in the most concise, useful, and interesting way?

Answer those questions, then act on them. Push any other thoughts out of your head. Do the work. Nothing else matters. When you’re done, remember that the secret to good writing is editing.

Overthinking can kill your writing. Don’t give it that power. In the end, overthinking will do you little or no good. Take control of overthinking and banish it from your writing life forever.

Thoughts? Let’s start a conversation on Twitter or Google+.

Photo credit: klsa12