Is this how it goes when you’re stuck and can’t write?
When you finally open your laptop, you sit for two minutes, then get up, go to your kitchen and grab a snack. Back at your laptop, you check your Facebook feed, then realize the sofa is more comfy, so you move there. Then you check email. Then you remember your eight glasses of water a day, so you head back to the kitchen, and while you’re there, you load the dishwasher with the breakfast dishes and call your dentist for an appointment.
Before you know it, the morning is gone. Poof.
And then the afternoon evaporates the same way. Next thing you know the week is gone. Before long it’s the month and the year.
Your precious words never make it onto the page and never get into the world.
So how do real writers actually write things?
Surely they simply sit at their computers, place their hands on the keyboard, tap into their brilliance, and voila! Extraordinary words flow onto the page.
Surely they isolate themselves in far-off places, like rose-covered stone cottages in rural Vermont, without other people, wi-fi, or telephones.
I used to think so until I began paying attention to what accomplished writers have to say about it.
Here’s what I learned: they get blocked, too–they struggle with getting started, with finding the right words, with moving through the droughts. They have distractions, family demands, broken washing machines, and email, just like the rest of us. They are tempted to goof-off, just like the rest of us.
Yep. I’ve heard it first-hand from acclaimed writers like Cheryl Strayed, Anne Lamott, Martha Beck, and Pam Houston, all of whom consistently produce fine work.
Here are some tips I’ve discovered:
1. Expect the resistance. Struggle is part of the process of writing just like it’s part of any creative endeavor. Expect it and don’t give into it. Every single writer I’ve studied with says the same thing. They all struggle. What makes the difference? They don’t let the struggle stop them. Don’t let it stop you.
2. Aim low. In her brilliant and hilarious guide to writing, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott suggests that you begin with a “shitty first draft.” Yep, that’s all you need to get started. Just get something, anything, no matter how terrible on the page. You can edit, polish and change it later.
3. Aim high. Read the works of the masters. Cheryl Strayed talks about reading Alice Munroe and Toni Morrison to figure out how to move a character from room to room. Think about it: Cheryl Strayed, whose best-selling memoir Wild inspired Oprah to reconvene her Book Club, has trouble finding the right words, too. Writing can be challenging, so read the masters with curiosity and learn how they do it.
4. Clean out the clogged pipes. Martha Beck suggests doing Artist’s Pages for 15 minutes every morning. Artist’s Pages are a technique described in The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. Simply set a timer and write steadily about anything for 15 minutes. Don’t stop until the time is up. This is not necessarily to be used or even re-read. It’s just to get your creative flow unblocked.
5. Treat every day like it’s your last. Anne Lamott says to ask yourself what you will care about at the end of your life? Having spent your evenings on Facebook? Watching the 10 pm news? “If you want to write,” she says, “you must commit that every evening at 10 pm you will write for an hour, come hell or high water.”
6. Breathe, baby, breathe. Stress is the enemy of intelligence and creativity. You can’t think or create when you’re stressed about anything, including not writing. A simple trick is to use your breath with this simple exercise: inhale-two-three-four-exhale-two-three-four. You can also try my Heartbreathing technique—it’s free and super-effective.
7. Put down the whip. If you’re mean to yourself, critical and judgmental, or tell yourself that you should have done it yesterday, you’ll make it worse. Self-abuse is not motivating. It has the opposite effect—you’ll avoid writing to avoid the tongue-lashing that you know is coming. Be kind. It really works!
So now what? Here’s my final tip:
Print out this article and put it in a visible place in your writing area. Read it every morning. Try out each tip and see what works for you.
And please do leave a comment below, about what you experience with these tips or your own favorite technique.
Terry DeMeo, JD is a coach, mentor, writer and storyteller. Her blog is Inner180.com. If you join her mailing list, you’ll receive her free Heartbreathing materials—a guided meditation and worksheet that’s guaranteed to relieve stress in any situation. Just drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the words “Heartbreathing Materials, please” in the subject line.