7 Ways to Conquer Writing Resistance

By DeAnn Bell

Writing Resistance is different than Writer’s Block because instead of having no ideas to put on paper, the writer has projects started but looks for ways to avoid sitting down to do their writing. Whether it is boredom with your routine, not having a routine at all, lack of writing goals, or a deeper psychological mistrust of your writing skills, writing resistance is primarily a negative association with writing itself. As a writer, we sometimes accidentally form habits that undermine our enjoyment of writing. From trying to write in physical places that are uncomfortable, to making a project monster out of a task molehill, we sew unintentional anxiety into the space we love the most. The most basic ways to assert positive writing mojo are as follows:

1)        Drown Out Your Inner Critic
Listen to music while you write. Your brain can’t write, listen to music, and tell you that your writing is crap all at the same time. Your mind will prioritize listening to music over criticizing your work, which in turn, helps build positive writing associations. Music without lyrics is preferred, but any music that helps you feel happy and relaxed will work. You can also create playlists for specific kinds of writing which can act as a trigger for putting your mind in the right space to write. To do this, choose four songs that capture the tone you want in your project. Put these songs on repeat so that you are not tempted to sing along rather than write. Press play and go!

2)        Get Comfortable
Writing in hard cafĂ© chairs or scrunched up on the couch squinting at the screen can create negative physical associations with your writing which will result in negative emotional associations. Make sure your writing space is clean, well-lighted and comfortable. Don’t be afraid to change locations. Have the right keyboard, screen resolution and size, and a chair that assures that your shoulders won’t be drawn up to your ears. One person’s heaven is another’s hell, so find a space that works for you, not against you.  

3)        Take care of your physical needs before, during, and after writing.
Part of being comfortable is taking care of your physical needs. That means taking the time to stand up, stretch, walk around, and generally make sure your muscles don’t seize. Eat well before you sit down, not while you are writing. Snacking while writing can lead to lethargy and unwanted weight gain. If you’ve already built in that habit, bring an apple with you into your working space. If you aren’t hungry enough to eat the apple, then you aren’t actually hungry. Have water on hand in addition to your favourite coffee, tea or soda so that you are both caffeinated and hydrated.

If these needs are met and you still find yourself baulking at the thought of sitting down to writing, it is time to dig a little deeper into what is causing your distress.

4)        Free Your Writing through Free Writing
The next thing to do is have a conversation with yourself about why you don’t want to write. This is best done as a free writing exercise. I find using pen and paper more helpful, but this exercise can be done on a blank computer document. Turn the paper 90 degrees so that it is landscape instead of portrait. This turn helps your brain approach the task as something different. Set a timer for 15 minutes. Title the paper Why I Am Not Writing and hit start. For 15 minutes write whatever comes into your head without lifting the pen from the paper, censoring, or stopping to organize your thoughts.
The first bits will be the same old excuses you always give yourself but as you hit the end of your normal excuses, the abnormal, unusual and root causes of your avoidance will start to appear. You might also find yourself writing bits of song lyrics, stories or past conversations. Think of these as clues, ways for your mind to avoid telling you the truth about the problem. At the end of the 15 minutes, take a break and get a coffee (or tea) and come back with a different coloured pen. Circle phrases and clusters of words that you feel have relevance to the task. Be honest with yourself. Once you’ve identified what you are actually avoiding, you can start looking for ways to recapture the fun of sitting down to write.

5)        The 10 Minute Timer
I use this method the most because I find the first ten minutes of writing to be the worst in my day. It’s in the first minutes that I am likely to remember a hundred other tasks that also need doing. To avoid getting distracted, I set the timer and write for ten minutes without stopping. Normally, by the time the timer chimes I am happily working toward my daily writing goal and don’t need any more motivation. Sometimes, though, I am still unsettled so I give myself ten minutes to get up and address one of the other tasks on my to-do list like dishes, calling the bank, watering plants, working on my calendars, etc. When the timer goes off again, I sit back down and write for another ten minutes. I continue in ten-minute increments until my resistance to the task is worn away.

6)        Stagger Your Projects
In my previous blog, Exercising to Keep Writing in Shape, I discussed how multitasking can undermine writing progress. On the other hand, staggering projects can be a great way to keep your fingers on the keyboard and your associations with writing positive. I love beginning and ending projects, but my motivation sags in the middle. I stagger projects so that I am always finishing or beginning one piece of writing whilst in the sticky midst of another. Rather than working on them in the same day, I split my days between the two tasks. By the time the new and shiny has worn off my secondary project, the end is in sight for my first project. This means a slower finish to a writing project, but finishing does happen and projects are completed in quick succession.

7)        Word Count Charting
The last technique I will discuss is one I use for students who are finding it difficult to set time aside to write. I send them an Excel spreadsheet broken down into hourly blocks between 9 am and 6 pm Monday through Friday. I tell them to consider the time before 9 am and after 6 pm, and all weekend time, their time. All time leftover should be allocated to their university classes and tasks. By setting aside time for work, they are better able to enjoy their time off. If they sleep till 12 pm, then they have to make up that work time in the evening.   In addition to tracking when they write, I get them to record where they are writing, what project they are working on, and what word count they have achieved in this time block. At the end of each writing block, I ask them to rate the writing experience between 1 (not fun at all) and 5 (excellent). In this way, students can find places and times of day where they are their most productive. It helps save time and effort on deciding what task to do next and can help students have more realistic expectations of how much time it takes to complete a task.

Although some parts of writing are preferable to others, remember that there are as many ways to make writing fun as there are to make it difficult. Don’t assume that writing has to be hard work in order to be good or that suffering is a natural part of writing. Demystifying your relationship with your writing and working towards making that relationship positive is the difference between working as a writer and living as a writer.

P.S. Don't forget that the deadline for submissions for #Normal Deviation is August 31st, 2017. 


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