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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.

I Challenge You to a Little Writer’s Duel


Years ago, when I used to teach 12-week Artist’s Way classes, I dreaded Week 4. In Week 4, Julia Cameron recommended reading deprivation – that’s right, don’t read anything for a week. I faced a lot of resistance from students about that challenge. I also dreaded discovering again how hard it was to go a week without reading. Week 4 became a contest between my reading habit and my commitment to be a good role model. I learned how important it is to align my habits with my commitments so I don’t end up fighting myself.

What I’m challenging you to do is a little less radical than giving up reading for a week, but I suspect a lot of you will resist anyway. The benefit of accepting this challenge is that you’ll learn how to align your habits with your commitment to writing and that makes everything so much easier.

Here’s the easy part: for one week, set four or five 10-or 15-minute appointments for writing. If that feels too big, scale it back. I’m defining ‘writing’ in the broadest sense possible to include anything that is related to a writing project (aka Product Time or 15 Magic Minutes). It might be drafting or revising, but it might also be freewriting in response to an exercise in a writing book, drafting a character sketch, drawing a map of the places you’re writing about, researching publications or publishers you might query, or interviewing someone, reading a book about writing or about the topic you want to write about. You can do anything that moves your writing forward.

Here’s the challenge: When you write, write! Don’t do anything but write in these writing appointments.

Do not multitask. Do not do anything but write. Ignore all in-person or electronic bids for your attention for these 10 or 15 minutes. Give yourself the quiet you need to hear your own thoughts and listen to your inner voice.

Turn on your computer or open your paper notebook and refrain from using any other electronic device. If you’re using a computer, do not open any windows other than the file(s) you’re working on at that moment. Disable any application that will announce an incoming email, IM or upcoming appointment.

The only exceptions to this rule are:

  1. If you’re researching, you’ll probably use a search engine. But be advised, most internet research is surface only; to get real depth of information from your source and depth of focus from yourself, you need non-internet sources. Some studies suggest people comprehend more from reading a hard copy than when they read same article online.
  2. If you like music in the background, your best bet is instrumental only. If you’re not convinced music with lyrics will interrupt your concentration, try this simple experiment yourself. Try memorizing a list of 20 words while listening to music with lyrics, then test your memory. After a short break, try memorizing different, but similar, list of 20 words while listening to instrumental music. If you’re like most people, you’ll see a significant difference in your ability to concentrate.
  3. If you write while your infant is down for a nap, do have your baby monitor turned on. I could suggest that an awful lot of humans throughout history have made it through infancy without their parents owning a baby monitor, but I suspect the guilt of turning the monitor off would make it impossible to focus. Anyone who isn’t an infant or completely and solely dependent on you for medical reasons should be able to muddle through without you returning a text, call or email for 15 minutes.

Even if you live in the Midwest and hear a severe weather siren, there’s no need to turn on the radio or TV. Just go to the basement and write there. Believe me, you’ll know if a tornado comes through.

It’s amazing how much more writing you do when all you do when you write is write.

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  1. Want a Shot at a Free Copy of Around the Writer’s Block? « The Bane of Your Resistance - July 30, 2012

    […] I Challenge You to a Little Writer’s Duel […]

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