When I read C. L. Blacke’s blog about cultivating a writing practice, I knew you’d want to learn more about her routes around, over and through resistance. C.L. reports that, in the early years, trying to overcome writing resistance “felt like smashing my head against a wall and expecting it to move.” When she finally accepted that resistance wasn’t a wall to knock down, but simply a part of the writing journey, she found ways to work through her resistance.
C. L. graciously shares her top 10 tips for writing through resistance in today’s guest post, beginning with how she overcomes her own greatest form of resistance – fear of imperfection. C. L.’s mantra, “I’m going to write the crappiest crap-crap ever and have fun doing it,” is one of the tricks that get her over the wall.
Writing resistance isn’t going anywhere, but that doesn’t mean your writing can’t keep moving. When we acknowledge where our resistance lies, we can find effective ways to write our way through resistance.
1. Embrace Imperfection
You don’t think you’re the perfect parent/spouse/employee/fill in the blank, so why hold your writing up to that impossible standard? The sooner you accept that you’re going to write a lot of crap (not just sometimes, but closer to every time you sit down), the easier it is to consistently show up for writing.
Your writing experience will change from day to day. Some days everything might click; other days may make you wonder if you can even form a complete sentence. That’s the nature of the creative process. The creative process is never perfect, so embrace imperfection and rock on.
2. Recognize Habits Don’t Form in 21 Days
You’ve probably heard that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. Expecting that folklore to apply to your writing will lead to disappointment.
According to a study published by Phillippa Lally in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a habit.
Your personality, existing habits, and circumstances affect how long you’ll need to solidify your writing habits, but you should expect it to take more than 21 days.
The better news is that researchers discovered missing an opportunity to practice a behavior was not detrimental to the formation process. Consistency over time is key.
3. Acknowledge Resistance and Move On
Danielle LaPorte, author of The Desire Map, speaker and self-help goddess, explains,
“When you enact a significantly positive lifestyle change, your brain temporarily floods your body with feel-good neurotransmitters…And then, in a cruel-but-necessary act of nature…our neurotransmitters collapse back to their normal output levels…And…the rah-rah ferocity dissipates.”
This is when you most need to acknowledge resistance and remind yourself, “My brain is changing, my habits are starting to stick, and I’m going to write the best crap I can today.”
4. Track Your Progress
Journaling on your progress each day will reveal patterns that can help you figure out what triggers your resistance.
Some things to track might include the time of day you wrote and why, what you worked on and how you felt about it, what you accomplished, and what you didn’t accomplish and why.
5. Reward Yourself
Don’t forget to celebrate your writing sessions by creating a reward system. The value of your rewards should be determined not only by whether you honored your commitment, but also by how hard it was for you to do it and how much time you spent at it.
Wrote for 15 minutes? Eat a piece of chocolate. Wrote for three hours? Book a massage.
Had no distractions? A dollar toward your book habit. The entire world tried to stop you and you wrote anyway? Netflix binge watch the next season of your favorite show.
6. Be Your Own Motivational Badass
We’ve all visualized ourselves signing copies of our NY Times Bestseller. So why not use visualization to create our own motivation? This works because your subconscious mind doesn’t distinguish between what you imagine and reality. (Remember how you woke up paralyzed and panting after your last nightmare?)
Identify how you want to feel while writing. (For me, it’s joy and excitement even when I’m killing off characters. Especially when I’m killing off characters.)
Visualize yourself writing in your current space and feel the emotional response. What physiological changes happen? (I picture myself laughing with devilish glee.) Write what you just visualized with details focused on how you felt. Recalling that scene and those feelings regularly will program your brain to elicit the same emotional responses when you do actually write.
7. Mooch Off Another Habit
This happens when you take a pre-existing habit (called a “trigger”) and attach a new habit to it. For instance, every time you sit down with your first cup of coffee, you work on writing. At some point (maybe not in 21 days), your brain will automatically associate drinking coffee with writing.
Eventually the two habits merge into a ritual, and reaching for your coffee will automatically trigger you to write.
8. Create a Sacred Space
This can be a desk, a kitchen table, your bed, the couch, or even a seat on the subway. You don’t need a cozy office in the turret of a Victorian home to write. (Remember that visualization exercise? Where were you?)
Fill your space with things that stimulate your senses: a self-made mockup of your book cover, inspirational music, a cinnamon candle, a cup of coffee, your cat’s soft head (let’s face it, if you have a cat, it’s going to sit on your keyboard).
9. Read Voraciously
- What did you agree with or admire about the piece?
- What did you disagree with or wish had been done differently?
- What emotions did you experience?
- What emotions did you want to experience but didn’t?
- What drew you in? What pulled you out?
Record observations in your writer’s notebook.
10. Engage in Non-Writing Activities
Your brain needs breathing room to work on a solution in the background, the way it does when you’re sleeping. The more you regularly engage in non-writing activities, the more efficiently your brain can make this transition.
Anything that focuses your mind away from your writing problem will help. Chances are any of the things you did as a kid will work: dancing, running, kayaking, fishing, coloring, sewing, baking, painting, scrapbooking, model building, or daydreaming.
These 10 suggestions and your variations on them will lead you around resistance. You “just” have to invest in yourself and do the work.
C. L. Blacke is a writer of all things murder, mystery, and mayhem (with some asskicking on the side). She holds an MFA in Creative Writing with a concentration in YA Literature and has studied screenwriting through UCLA Extension. As a licensed secondary English education teacher, her passion is helping students learn to love reading and to express themselves through writing. You can follow her at www.clblacke.com and on Twitter @hollowvillage.