Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Writing against resistance: or, How to do what you don’t want in order to get what you do want

Image by Clare Bloomfield,

Anyone else love that feeling you get straight after exercising?

Your body is glowing. Your muscles are spent but you feel weirdly energised – and the buzz lasts for the rest of the day. You feel satisfied, alert, pumped up, and ready to tackle everything life throws at you. Not to mention that as you continue this habit, your stress levels are lower, you sleep better, your brain functions with more clarity, and your body is healthier.

So why don’t we all exercise more?

Let’s roll back the clock a little and take a look at the moments BEFORE the workout. 

The alarm goes off at 5.30am. Ugh. You are soooo tired. Your entire body cries out to snuggle under the blankets just a little longer. The thought of swinging yourself out of bed and putting in the effort to get to the gym, or go for a run, feels overwhelming. Imagine all the energy you’ll have to expend! You picture your lungs heaving, your body sweating, muscles straining… no, thanks. There is nothing attractive about the prospect whatsoever. It’s hard, it’s daunting, and after all, one day off won’t hurt, will it?

Writers, take note.

Virtually ANY task we undertake that contains long-term benefit, will at times appear unattractive to us in the short term. (click to tweet)

In other words, there’s resistance.

Creatives have toiled against this resistance since the dawn of time. Whether we face a blank canvas or a half-completed manuscript, our greatest battle is often a mental one. And the hardest struggle occurs in the charged moments before our fingers ever hit the keyboard.

Here are five keys to overcoming resistance as you write.

Image by sippakorn,

1. Don’t debate.

Make your mind up before you begin.

If you write in the morning, set a recurring alarm for each weekday, so you never have to worry about it again. Then, when the alarm goes off, roll out of bed. Don’t think about it. If you think about it, it will all seem too hard. Just set your body on autopilot and get up.

2. Set small goals.

If you start out obsessing over the enormity of the task before you (“25,000 more words by the end of this week! How will I ever get there?”), you’ll feel defeated before you even begin.

Instead, make your first goal to get your butt in your writing chair.

Easy, right? You can definitely do that.

Make your next goal to hammer out 250 words before you do ANYTHING else. That’s right – before you check your email, or swing past Facebook, or send out a Tweet.

James Scott Bell calls it “the nifty 250”. It’s easy, it’s achievable, and with that under your belt, you have the momentum to continue.

Remember, the hardest part is just starting. If you can get 250 words down, it’s only another 250 to reach 500. And that’s halfway to a thousand. Don’t sabotage yourself with other distractions before you even begin.

3. Reward yourself in the short-term

Writing a book is a long-term goal, and it can be hard to stay excited about a goal so far-off you can’t see it even when you squint.

Try scattering small rewards along your path. If you write your allotted 1000 words for the day, let yourself chill out on Facebook for a while. Or watch TV. Or read a book – whatever you do to relax and recharge.

The key is to NOT let yourself do those things before you’ve reached your daily goals. Otherwise your writing time will get sucked into a black hole from which it can never be retrieved, and you will forevermore feel existential sadness each time you ponder what your life might have been had you not given in to the distractions of the internet. ;-)

4. Become a creature of routine.

A kind of magic happens once you set a routine and stick with it. The first few times you have to get up early, or write at a predetermined time, are the most difficult.

Picture yourself on an enormous hamster-wheel made of stone. Trying to get that thing moving is HARD. You pit your body against the rock, muscles straining, the wheel turning almost imperceptibly at first. But then, as you continue, a type of magic happens. Slowly, slowly, the wheel gathers momentum. Your body hits a rhythm. The wheel moves faster and faster. Suddenly, you reach a moment of breakthrough where you’re jogging along, no longer struggling against the wheel but flowing with it in perfect ease, faster than you ever dreamed.

Routine is what makes that magic happen for your writing. The dedication to turn up at the desk, day in and day out, making that wheel turn – to begin with – through sheer force of effort.

Then, after a while, you’ll notice that the effort has become less. Soon it’s such a part of your life that showing up to write each day is a reflex, like breathing or smiling. You’re in the flow.

5. Don’t stop and start

What happens if you jump off the wheel? If you let your routine become interrupted?

The wheel slows. Leave it long enough, and it stops. If you step back on at this point, you have to start all over again, straining and heaving to make inching progress against a mountain of inertia.

Make your routine work for you. Then, instead of spending your energy fighting the same battle each day just to get to the desk and focus on the task, you can expend your effort where it counts – in dreaming up new ideas and word pictures for the page.

On a scale of “I always face resistance when I write” to “I never face resistance”, where do you fall? How do you make yourself do what you don’t want in order to get what you do want?


5 keys to overcoming resistance as you write – Click to Tweet

How to do what you don’t want in order to get what you do want – Click to Tweet

Creatives always face resistance. How to break through the barriers that are holding you back. – Click to Tweet

Karen Schravemade lives in Australia. When she's not chasing after three small children, she spends her spare minutes daydreaming about the intricate lives of characters who don't actually exist. Find her on her website and Twitter.


Julia M. Reffner said...


This is a WONDERFUL post! I'm finding your #4 routines is the key to my whole life getting in order. This is what I'm learning this year and still putting into place, adding one routine at a time. Still need lots of work in this area.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Julia! It's one of the hardest yet most rewarding things we can do for our writing life.

Joanne Sher said...

This is a FABULOUS post, Karen! WOW - need it SO badly Thank you.

Angie Dicken said...

Great GREAT post, Karen! I find that if I schedule in my writing time after I have accomplished non-writing tasks, it makes me get those non-writing tasks done so I CAN write! Writing is my reward!! HA!

Angie Dicken said...

Great GREAT post, Karen! I find that if I schedule in my writing time after I have accomplished non-writing tasks, it makes me get those non-writing tasks done so I CAN write! Writing is my reward!! HA!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Karen, what a great post! It's so common-sense, yet not always easy to live out. And you're right, when I step off the writing wheel, it's so hard to get back on again. I'm dealing with that now.

LOVED your suggestions!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Thank you JOANNE, and can I just add how much I need this too?! Preaching to myself, as always. :)

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

ANGIE, I love that!! Boy I wish I was wired that way. For me the enjoyment comes well into the writing session - starting is never appealing to me, although that routine does help! No wonder you're so prolific. :)

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

JEANNE, yes, stopping and starting has been my downfall many a time! Particularly when it comes to routine, but it's worth thinking about the individual writing session as well. They say it takes 50% longer to complete a task if you're interrupted. That's a lot of time wasted in proportion to the few seconds or minutes of interruption! It really is about sustaining momentum.