Overcoming Writing Resistance

If you're dealing with writing resistance and feel like you can't make progress, you're very cordially invited to the next session of Inspired, my free online writing retreat!

Friday, May 18, 2018, 11am EST to 6pm

Inscribed Online Writing Retreat(3).png

And now to the blog post.

If you’re anything like me, reaching writing goals seems so easy on the surface ("Oh, just write some words.") and yet somehow always manages to be so incredibly difficult ("I have to keep writing words? What am I? A wizard?").

I’m still stuck in book writing hell. I’m annoyed and bored and sigh loudly every time I have to work on my writing project. As I wrote in my last post, the romance of the honeymoon and the excitement of creating a new thing disappeared a long time ago. I don’t want to write the thing anymore than I did a month ago and suspect I’m still not going to feel like working on it next month. Shiny new ideas constantly appear and beckon me to abandon the current project and chase them instead. Left to my own devices, I would quit now because I just don’t feel like it anymore.

The resistance is palpable. And intellectually, I know exactly what the problem is.

My feelings.

And of course, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.

This week the universe gave me a lot of advice about overcoming resistance in writing. I working on listening and allowing for the possibility that I might not be my own best expert on dealing with resistance. In fact, I might be purposely sabotaging myself and my writing project so that I don’t have to be vulnerable or courageous and can put the whole thing down and point to it as evidence that I have absolutely no business even trying to write a book because it’s clear that I can’t.

Resistance, of course, is just fear.

I’m not having acute fear, the racing heart and feelings of outright panic. (As I wrote here, fear sometimes gets very loud and starts screaming at me to stop the car before someone gets seriously injured. As Elizabeth Gilbert tells us, the trick is not to let fear drive the car.) I am, however, consumed with low-level chronic feelings of apathy and dread. I’m doing what Kate Swoboda calls “hiding out.”  It’s more insidious because my small acts of resistance ("I’ll just skip one day of writing.”) eventually become so great that I’m stuck like a mammoth in the La Brea Tar Pits.

I know exactly what I need to do to keep moving forward, but the problem is that I just don’t want to. But here’s the rub: if you’re(I’m) ever going to get anything done, you’re(I’m) going to have to do things despite your feelings.

One of the things that helps me overcome my feelings is the structure I’ve created to help me move forward to my goals. I conducted a planning and strategy meeting last night and reviewed all of my goals (five year, eighteen month, monthly, weekly, daily) and then made some new plans to meet those goals and scheduled them on my calendar.

I also stumbled upon Mel Robbins’s TEDx talk ("How to Stop Screwing Yourself Over") this week, which showed up on my Twitter feed the moment I most needed it. She argues that OF COURSE you don’t feel like taking action, but that it’s possible to teach yourself to act with courage using the Five Second Rule. The Five Second Rule goes like this: within five seconds of knowing that you should take action, you must do it. You count backwards from five and then take action and do the thing that you absolutely don’t want to do.

I thought about how the Five Second Rule might apply to writing. No one actually feels like it. I don’t know a single person who bounces out of bed in the morning, eager to get some writing done. Most of the writing people I know approach writing like a chore (which it definitely is). Nobody really wants to, but as grown-ass adults, we make ourselves do certain things even though we don’t want to. Meditation. Paying taxes. Writing.

I tried the Five Second Rule this week. And my God, it worked. Every time I felt myself making excuses to not write, I got stern with myself. “Self,” I said, “You have five seconds to pull your shit together and sit down and write this thing. 5-4-3-2-1-GO.” And I’d go.

 The magic of the Five Second Rule is also why I think my Tuesday #ShutUpandWrite sessions are so effective for people. You might not feel like writing, but I count down for you (5-4-3-2-1-GO!) and suddenly you’re writing, whether you really want to be or not.

To get things done, you’ll have to take action in the precise moment you don’t want to.

The other trick to overcoming your resistance to doing something scary like practicing creativity and making something new that you’re not entirely sure is good is to lower the bar as much as possible.

Resistance kicks in exactly when you’re making great progress. If you feel yourself starting to resist, lower the bar.  If you can trick your brain into thinking that your goal is small, it will often just shrug and go along with your plan. The greater and bigger the goal, the greater and bigger the resistance.

So lower the bar. Instead of writing for an hour, maybe you’ll write for 45 minutes. If that’s still too much, keep reducing the time until the amount of time you’re going to spend writing is so negligible that it would be ridiculous to not do it. This is one reason the “write your dissertation in fifteen minutes!” idea works. Anyone can write for fifteen minutes. (Even me!) Anyone.

If you’re struggling with even just starting the fifteen minutes of writing, combine it with the Five Second Rule. Count down from five and decide that you’re going to get fifteen minutes of writing done even though you absolutely hate your writing project and think it’s dumb.

And here’s the magic of lowering the bar so much that you don’t even have to try very hard to hop over it: if you can make it through ten or fifteen minutes of writing, the brain seems to sigh loudly, give in, and decide that it’s not worth the trouble of resisting anymore. If you keep writing, you might even get to that magical flow state in which you lose track of time entirely and suddenly find that you’ve been writing an hour.

I can’t even tell you how much I resisted even writing this blog post. But I took a deep breath, used the Five Second Rule, and lowered the bar. And I wrote it.

Now back to the book project.