Beware of perfect writing conditions

Reading time: About 4 minutes

If you’re delaying writing because you’re waiting for perfect writing conditions, you’re making an enormous mistake….

Are you waiting for perfect writing conditions?

A quiet space.

No scary projects looming over your shoulders.

No need to look after family or friends.

No other big demands on your time.

Because, you know, this writing is so important to you, you want to give it your full and lavish attention…

Do I need to tell you that these feelings are just convenient excuses?

I no longer delay my writing by thinking this way (in fact, I wrote my first book when my triplets were 12 — the very definition of an imperfect condition for writing). But let me tell you the story of how I’ve tragically postponed another project…

I have always aspired to be fluent in French. Back when I was four years old, my favourite TV show (in fact, the only one my parents let me watch) was Chez Hélène — hosted by a female and francophone kind of Mister Rogers, who taught us to count and use basic vocabulary in her wonderful and melodic language.

Precocious little thing that I was, I used to amuse the neighbourhood adults by trying to speak to them in French.

Paradoxically, I did badly in French in high school — I think it was the uninspired teaching because I was still highly motivated. But, at last, in Grade 10, I had a spectacular teacher, Madame Reche, and my French took off. Suddenly, I started doing well at the language, and I became assured enough that when I got to university, I loaded up my schedule with enough French to make me confident at conversation. I even occasionally dreamed in French!

One Christmas during that time, I went to see a friend in Québec City, who was studying at the local university. It was a fun visit but, sadly, the midnight flight there trashed my immune system. I ended up in the emergency room with strep throat. The upside? I could converse with the doctor, while I was very sick, entirely in French.

But then…time passed. I spent 40 years never speaking a word of French. In Vancouver, where I live, there are far more opportunities to speak Mandarin or Japanese than French. When my husband and I travelled in Québec, about seven years ago, I couldn’t even ask for street directions. I felt inept and frustrated.

Shortly after that, I started chipping away at French on Duolingo, often spending 45 minutes a day at it. I have mixed feelings about the platform. I’d never use it to learn a language with which I had no familiarity. It operates on the system of practice and exposure — it doesn’t teach you any of the rules.

But, by nature, I’m a competitive person, so I enjoy the “contest” part of it. My husband frequently rolls his eyes at me as I spend an hour (or more) on Sunday afternoons trying to get to the top of that week’s league.

Currently, I’m on a 2306-day streak (that’s six-plus years), and I’ve been in the Diamond League, the top one, for 109 weeks. And yet, despite all this work, my conversation is not much better. I know I need more real-life practice.

Anyway, I’ve found online access to a group of French teachers at an affordable rate, and I just need to sign up. But have I done it? No.


I’m teaching a course right now…

My husband and I are taking part in a time-consuming auction to get rid of some of our stuff…

We are trying to plan our next trip for the fall…

Also, I fear I’m going to look like an idiot when I try to have my first conversation in French with this teacher. Comment dit-on, “Excuse me, my French is pathetically bad”?

Well, as you can see, I’m skilled at pulling out all the excuses, too! The heart of the problem is that I’m looking for perfect conditions.

Those of us inclined to harbour such beliefs — whether we’re writing or learning French — need to learn five important principles:

1-There’ll never be a perfect time because you’ll never be totally ready

We are all busy people with a zillion tasks and responsibilities in our lives. If we want to do something new, something extra, we just need to decide to do it. We need to make it a priority.

The question is seldom time. (If it is, let me ask you how much time you spend watching TV or scanning Facebook, Instagram, TikTok or X.) The question is more often commitment. How badly do you want to do the task you are postponing?

2-You don’t need to get it “right” the first time

Many of us are ill-equipped to be bad at something. I know I’m desperate not to make too many French grammar mistakes. I also really don’t want an embarrassing accent that’s going to make native speakers wince.

But here’s the thing: If I don’t get more practice, how am I ever going to master those rules of grammar or mitigate my accent?

Ditto for writing. You may worry that your first drafts will be (choose as many terms as you like):

  • Too superficial
  • Too complex
  • Too boring
  • Too disorganized
  • Too predictable

But how will you get any better at writing if you don’t get enough practice?

We all have to go through a time of being bad at something before we become any good at it.

3-If you want to get better at anything, you need to go to the edge of your comfort

This may be the scariest principle of all. To get better at anything, we need to become uncomfortable! Who wants to do that? (Not me!)

Most of us associate discomfort with something physical — wet feet, cold hands, exhaustion — but mental discomfort is just as trying, if not more so. We don’t like to look stupid or uneducated. We don’t want to put others at ill ease. We don’t want to be left wondering what we should do next.

But, the truth of the matter is that we have no choice. It’s necessary to go through discomfort in order to learn.

4-It will never be easy, but it will always be worth it

Learning to do new tasks is hard work, but it pays off. If you want to learn to speak French, you need to risk looking like an idiot to people who are native speakers of the language. If you want to write, you need to spend the time doing it, even though you have no guarantee that your first draft is going to be any good.

But once you’ve invested that time, you will see the rewards. Speaking French, writing a book or doing any other task that’s new (from learning how to fly an airplane to learning how to play tennis) will become easier with experience. Maybe not easy, but easier.

5-The riskiest move you can make in life is never to take a calculated risk

Sure, it seems way safer to do nothing. To wait for perfect writing conditions for whatever you have to write. But if you never take a risk, you’ll end up in the same place. Instead of doing that, ask yourself a pointed question: “If I fail, what happens next?”

With my French, I risk looking like an idiot to a teacher who is paid to deal with many other idiots who are also trying to learn the language. (In other words, the risk is low.)

With your writing, you risk having to do the writing over again. (That’s actually good news, because very few other people — if any — need to see your first draft, so you’ll be able to save face.)

The great American writer E.B. White said, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

Don’t be that writer.

And if you want some help with accountability, consider signing up for my Get It Done program.

By way of exchange, I’ve just signed up for my first French conversation lesson. I’ll let you know how it goes. À la semaine prochaine!


My video podcast last week addressed how to deal with unhelpful comments from peers. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.


Need some help developing a better writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.


How do you stop yourself from waiting for perfect writing conditions? We can all learn from each other, so please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. If you comment on today’s post (or any others) by April 30/24, I’ll put you in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!


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