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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Relax Already (Neurology of Resistance Part 2)

Relaxing into your writing is fun and it works!

Relaxing into your writing is fun and it works!

After the last post on the Neurology of Resistance, many of you may be thinking “Okay, so writing resistance is normal and I don’t have to feel guilty or embarrassed, and that’s a huge relief, but what do I do next? How do I get past resistance and start writing again?”

The key is the RAS (Reticular Activating System, the brain stem’s toggle switch). The next time you recognize you’re using your usual resistance techniques (procrastinating, distracting yourself, cleaning your house well beyond normal hygiene just so you don’t have to face the blank screen, berating yourself for not writing), remember this resistance is caused by the RAS putting your limbic system in charge.

Your limbic system may want to ignore the tiny bit of your cortex that’s yelling “Hey, what about that writing I wanted to do? This is not the way I want to be acting today!” The good news is that as long as you have that small awareness, you can turn things around. You can get the RAS to flip control back to the cerebral cortex. How? Relax.

Relaxing is counter-intuitive to the limbic system, which either fights or flees. But the only way to get the RAS to switch the limbic system off and the cortex back on is to physically relax. That’s why it’s vital to select a few, simple relaxation techniques in advance so you know what to do in a ‘writing emergency’ and to have an on-going relaxation practice to sustain you.

How to Relax in a “Writing Emergency”

First of all, remember there are no real writing emergencies. We aren’t running ERs, operating rooms or the control center of a nuclear power plant. It may seem like this is a critical, defining moment in your writing career, but no one ever died for lack of words on the page. Allow yourself a little perspective.

Breathe! Most of us breathe with only the top third of our lungs. Inhale all the way down to your belly. Hold it for a few seconds, then consciously exhale all the air and wait a few seconds. Repeat as necessary.

Play dead. Try the yoga ‘corpse’ pose where you lay flat on your back and breathe. Yoga is not only a great way to relax in the moment, it’s one of those on-going self-care practices that actually make your RAS less reactive so your cortex will be online more of the time.

Play. Creative play, what I call Process, can be as simple as coloring or doodling. Try finger painting. Play around with a harmonica. Knit. Bead. Make something out of Play-Doh. Anything that you do just to do it, without expectations of a specific outcome, will relax you. Practiced regularly, 10 or 15 minutes of Process will also make your RAS less reactive.

Write badly. To write well, first you have to write. To write at all, you have to be willing to write badly. Some days you shovel dreck, some days you find gold. But you’ll never find the gold if you’re not willing to shovel the dreck. Give yourself permission to write awkward, clichéd, cheesy, even stupid stuff. It’s always easier to fix something that’s already on the page than it is to try to write the perfect piece out of nothing.

Please comment: What helps you relax into your writing?

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13 Comments on “Relax Already (Neurology of Resistance Part 2)”

  1. The Uncertain Scribe April 11, 2016 at 11:12 am #

    This post contains some of the best tips I’ve ever read. Thank you so much.


    • rosannebane April 11, 2016 at 4:58 pm #

      Thank you for saying so, Uncertain Scribe. I hope you’ll keep finding helpful posts here.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jacque May 11, 2009 at 10:08 pm #

    This is fantastic. One trick I have used lately is to try doing word lists to help me get into the day’s writing. Ray Bradbury wrote about it in his book on writing, Zen and the Art of Writing. It works I think because I play a bit and it takes the pressure off!


    • rosannebane May 12, 2009 at 7:18 pm #

      Thanks for sharing your latest trick Jacque. Funny that some of us have to trick ourselves into playing, isn’t it.


  3. Erick Reinikka May 8, 2009 at 11:01 pm #

    Wow, I never thought about relaxing my way into writing! I thought I had to gear myself up to sit down and work.
    I learned through your Writing Habit class to work in self care throughout my week. I’ve scheduled in work out and quiet time. 3 days a week during my lunch hour I go to the gym. 2 days a week I go to the library to read. I find it good to get out of the work place and put my mind somewhere else.
    I think I need to work in some relaxation before I start my daily writing ritual. Maybe then I wouldn’t resist as another task I must complete during the day.
    Great blog! I look forward to hearing what others due for relaxation techniques.


    • rosannebane May 9, 2009 at 3:46 am #

      Thanks Erick. Going to the library is a great idea — changing your location can do wonders for changing your perspective.


    • Santiago November 17, 2012 at 8:08 am #

      just graduated HS .i have sciaol anxiety disorder and depression and have not felt actual legit emotion in a while, the depression has numbed it..im not bad looking just rely quiet, but at my party a rly attractive girl classmate stopped by with her dad who was my baseball coach.. she has always been freindly and stuff..so we just sat there and i tried to fight anxiety and talk to her.. we talked college and shit.nvr talked to a girl loong b4. she hugged my and left.now i feel emotion.weird


  4. Ricardo November 17, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

    It takes A LOT of faith to be atheist or an eiosutionvlt when things are obviously so clearly proven by archaelogy, history and yes, even science that there exists a creator. If you put your energy towards being more open minded (which is funny how people will say Christians are the close-minded ones) you would perhaps find a more sensical origin to our species; rather than spend your energy bashing others with insulting words and name calling. Consider Darwin’s X factor


  5. rosannebane November 18, 2012 at 10:11 pm #

    I don’t believe I used insulting words or called names. What specifically in my post offended you?



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