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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.

Step 3 Out of Too Distracted to Write: Respect Your Resistance


post it distraction canstockphoto21427236From previous posts, you know that Step 1 is to recognize you are distracting yourself away from writing (or using another form of resistance).

Step 2 is to relax, which will bring your creative cortex back online.

Your next step is to respect the wisdom of your resistance.

How can there possibly be wisdom in distracting yourself from the writing you want to do? Even if it’s not clear to you in the moment, your resistance is there for a reason. Consider this story excerpted from chapter 2 of Around the Writer’s Block.

Aimee the Amnesiac

In 1906, Aimee (not her real name) was admitted to a French hospital under the care of Dr. Edouard Claparède. She had a brain injury that made it impossible to form new memories.

While her memories of her life before the injury were unimpaired, after she was injured, Aimee couldn’t remember anything that happened more than a few minutes earlier.

So every time Dr. Claparède saw Aimee, he had to introduce himself as if he was meeting her for the first time. Claparède decided to conduct an experiment one day. He put a pin between the fingers of his right hand, so that when he walked into the room, introduced himself, and shook hands with Aimee, she received a surprising, painful, but harmless stab in the palm of her hand. Claparède apologized and talked with her for a few minutes, then left. Aimee, of course, had no memory of the incident.

13662490 - hand gesture concept of one hand refusing to handshakeAnd yet, when Claparède reached for Aimee’s hand when “meeting” her later, she pulled her hand away. She refused to shake hands with him, even though she had never refused to do so before, and even though she couldn’t explain why she was unwilling to shake his hand.

Aimee’s resistance to shaking Claparède‘s hand makes perfect sense to us. But keep in mind that Aimee could not retain new memories. She didn’t remember the pin, so she couldn’t explain her resistance…

The key point of Aimee’s story is that you don’t have to have a “logical” reason for feeling resistance. And just because you don’t know why you don’t want to do something doesn’t mean there isn’t a good reason for not doing it.

Where’s the Wisdom?

We have (at least) two memories systems, one available to conscious recollection, one we don’t have conscious access to. We don’t have to have a logical reason or conscious awareness of a threat to trigger the limbic brain and feel resistant.

That’s the wisdom of resistance. We can protect ourselves from threats we’re not consciously aware of. Your resistance is telling you something is off; something needs to change.

What’s Your Amnesia?

question post it canstockphoto6770736Fortunately, we don’t have to know why we’re distracting ourselves to stop doing that. But it does help to recognize what might be triggering distraction and to consider when and how we’re likely to seek distractions.

The insidious part of distraction is that it can make us feel good about not writing. Unlike writer’s block where you agonize about not being able to write, distraction gives you something pleasant to do (at least more pleasant than trying to write).

Electronic distractions also give you a squirt of dopamine every time you get new input, which is why social media, games and apps can be so addictive.

It’s easy to slip into distraction without noticing it. It’s even easier to stay distracted far longer than you realize. So take a close look at your distractions before you get lost in them.

Consider the kinds of distractions you use most. Do you lose yourself in electronic distractions like social media, email, apps or games? If so, what device (phone, laptop, tablet, TV) are you usually using when you slip into distraction?

Do you wander away from your writing space to throw in a load of laundry or do some other chore? Do you escape outdoors? Do you seek out people to distract you?

This doesn’t mean you can’t ever do the laundry or use your phone again. Notice when you’re doing something you sometimes use as a distraction. Stop and ask if you are doing this intentionally or if you had intended to write and somehow ended up here.

Recall what you were doing before you followed a distraction. Is there a particular writing project you’re resisting? Are you more likely to go missing when you intend to work on a certain topic or write in one particular genre?

What time of day are you most susceptible to distractions? Are there certain people or situations that lead you into distraction? What sets you up?

Now What?

rumi listenTo respect the wisdom of resistance, you must stop disrespecting yourself. Stop telling yourself, “This is stupid.” Or “I’m just being lazy and undisciplined.” Or “I must not have what it takes.”

Respect means listening without judgment. Ask yourself:

  • What is this resistance telling me?
  • What do I need?
  • What’s missing (time, support, information)?
  • What am I truly afraid of?
  • What would reassure me?
  • How can I minimize the risk?
  • What small step can I take to move forward?

You may need to circle back to Step 2 and consciously relax as you explore these questions.

Find out what to do with the answers to these questions in the upcoming post on Step 4: Redirect Resistance.

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Kay: Get Rid of Distractions—with Science! – Eight Ladies Writing - September 1, 2016

    […] of her recent articles urged writers to respect their resistance to writing. She explains it by first describing a […]

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  2. Too Distracted to Write? Here’s Your Next Step | Bane of Your Resistance - August 17, 2016

    […] When you relax and bring your creative cortex back online, you’re ready for the next step: respecting the wisdom in your resistance. Watch for that in our next post. […]

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  3. Step 4: Redirect Your Writing Past Distraction | Bane of Your Resistance - July 7, 2016

    […] Step 3, Respecting the wisdom of resistance, means accepting that the distraction is there for a reason. It also means knowing that real problems have real solutions. […]

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