Let me get one issue out of the way right now. There will be those of you who read this article’s title and are already bristling. Why would a writer write when she is not inspired? Why would she try to force the muse? There are a lot of reasons (ie: I’m a copywriter for a living, and my boss doesn’t give a flying hoot about how inspired I feel.), but if you need me to explain them to you, then this article is not for you. This is for people who want to write…but just can’t get started.
I’m one of those people. I love the act of writing. As my fingers tap along the keyboard, I am transported to another world. It’s like meditation, only instead of pulling everything inside myself, I’m letting it out. Likewise, I love being done with a writing session. I feel satisfied, accomplished, and just plain proud of myself for having written.
What I don’t like is the time before writing. Often, I feel a plethora of emotions, most of them negative. I’m afraid of whether my writing will be decent or not; I’m dreading trying to figure out where to take my story; or I’m doubting whether I’m even a “real” writer. After all, wouldn’t a “real” writer be dying to get to the keyboard?
Recently, I had a bit of a revelation. Or, maybe let’s call it a mindset shift. Whenever I think about writing, I feel a mental wall come up. Steven Pressfield calls it Resistance. Some may call it writer’s block. I just call it my Wall. Some days it’s exhaustion, some days it’s fear, some days it’s simple laziness. But it’s always unproductive and always stubborn.
I like to picture my wall as a red brick slab with ivy crawling up the side. Go ahead. Picture yours. Describe it in the comments if you like.
Now that I’ve “personified” my mental wall, I’ve been thinking of tools to surmount it. Despite what some artistic souls will have you believe, logic is often a great ally to creativity.
In this strategy, I focus on everything one step at a time. I know that I’m going to write, and when, but I don’t let myself think about it. At each moment, I only have to worry about that moment’s task (getting a glass of water, sitting down, turning on the computer, etc.). One step at a time, like pole vaulter running toward the wall. By the time I realize I’m about to go over the wall (write), I’m already in the air. Scrivener is open in front of me. I’m already here. I might as well write.
Sometimes I get all the way to the point of writing, then freeze in front of the screen. In these cases, I tell myself that I only have to write one sentence. That’s it. Just chisel a tiny piece of stone off the wall. Not even an entire brick. After one sentence, I do another. Then another. Eventually, I get through the wall. I forget that writing is “work” and I get on with enjoying myself.
This strategy requires the most self-control. Basically, I just sit down and blast through it. No thinking, no worrying about quality, nothing but getting through the plot point as quickly as possible. It’s not always pretty, but on days when I can shut off my internal editor, it gets the job done.
When I’m feeling particularly tricky, sometimes reminding myself of all the reasons I love writing works. If I can go through a list of reasons to write, eventually one will be compelling enough. This is my key, and I use it to unlock the door of motivation that emerges in my wall.
There’s no clever metaphor for this one, and it rarely works for me. However, if you can think of a reward for yourself that’s lying just on the other side of the wall, that can be motivation enough to blast through it, one way or another. The problem is…eventually, you just may run out of ways to tempt yourself into writing. Hopefully, you’ve developed a solid habit before that happens.
I’m still figuring out exactly which strategy works for me. It varies by day and mood and all the other factors of life that try to get in the way of writing. So far, I seem to be somewhere between pole vaulting and chiseling my way through. But, I think this list is a good start. I’d love to hear some of your strategies, too.
How do you convince yourself to write when you’re not in the mood? What mindset do you try to bring to your writing? Share your tips below!