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Overcoming Resistance (to Writing)

Overcoming Writer ResistanceIt happens all the time. I have a good idea or existing project, characters are talking, plot is coming together, and I want to write. I want to close my eyes and let the story pour out.

Instead, I’m doing everything but writing. I’m even tackling tasks I’ve neglected since I wrote my spring-cleaning list.

Resistance feels like a door I need to walk through but can’t seem to budge.

So what gives?

Experienced writers exchange commiserating glances. New writers wonder what’s wrong with them. The good news is that nothing is wrong. It’s a phenomenon known as resistance and it’s pretty common. If you haven’t experienced it yet, chances are you will.

For me, resistance is always present. It’s just part of my writing life. Learning how to overcome, trick, deny, and work around resistance was a vital skill for me to develop. Sometimes we’re just afraid that we can’t write well enough to match our ideals. Other times, we’re facing an emotional scene and are reluctant to push forward. Most of the time, we want to write but do something else instead.

There are neurological and psychological reasons for resistance, but knowing them didn’t change my behavior on its own. Knowing what I was doing left me with the feeling that I lacked discipline or had no will power.  We create a habit of avoidance when we give into resistance, which has a psychological basis. Getting on Pinterest or Twitter instead of the page can give us a little dopamine release for pleasure, and there’s neurological reasons for that. I’m not sure focusing on these things are always helpful in overcoming them, but if you are interested in more information, check out BaneofYourResistance.com.

What I’ve found, at least for me and a number of writers I’ve spoken to, is that resistance is best overcome by habit. You don’t resist brushing your teeth, it’s just something you do and you don’t really think about it. Same goes for writing. When it becomes an ingrained habit, resistance has a much harder time finding a foothold.

In addition to the importance of habit, I have learned a few tricks along the way. What works for me may not work for you, but here’s my own list:

  • Thinking about the scene beforehand and planning it in my head works consistently.
  • Taking a few minutes to just write out what’s happening in the next ten pages works provided I go directly to the page afterward.
  • Word sprints with another writer or #writeclub on Twitter (Fridays) works.
  • Bribery works. Doing something fun or rewarding after hitting word count does work, but not all the time.
  • Biting the bullet works. Again, it doesn’t work all the time, but some days, gritting my teeth and just starting to type gets the job done.
  • Reading my goals and vision works, and works consistently. Reviewing where I want to be in five years and connecting that vision to whether or not I write today almost always gets me to the page.
  • Accountability helps. Having to report my numbers to my critique partners gives me an extra oomph.
  • On some occasions, I’ll deny words all together–my journal, the internet, letters, Skype–all of it. Cold turkey, baby. It doesn’t take more than a few hours before I’m antsy with words and fling myself at the keyboard.
  • Telling myself it’s okay to to write crap helps. Writing outside the structure (for non-fiction) helps.
  • Starting with pen and paper often works because as the story starts to flow, I get frustrated with speed and jump to the keyboard. I think typing in what I wrote and continuing on is also helpful.

How do you overcome resistance in your own writing life? Is it more prominent some times more than others?


Just a note: I’m offering the first of Robyn’s Workbooks for Writers, Character Development, over at my site. Check it out. It’s free.


4 thoughts on “Overcoming Resistance (to Writing)

  1. Bane of Your Resistance. Love, love, love it. Fear is a writer’s biggest creative monster. What was crazy for me to learn is that it didn’t work to WAIT for inspiration to write. The fear just stayed. The only thing for me that works is to write THROUGH the fear — forget inspiration. Start writing, the inspiration comes, while the fear fades away.

    WONDERFUL post, Robyn.

  2. Ahhh, so I can finally put a name to the monster that always distracts me from writing: Resistance. However, I am happy to see I am not the only one who struggles to focus. Part of it may be because my work life has me sitting at a computer 9+ hours a day, so when it comes to writing time – I just want to run away from the screen.

    Ban of Your Resistance is a great site to share. Thank you for that!

  3. Thank you, Marcy, and I agree fear is a bad guy.

    Amanda, if it’s possible for you, try to change things up. If you’re at the computer all the time, try writing by hand. Maybe if you can make it feel different, it might help. Just a thought. 🙂

  4. Pingback: Unused Entity | I failed. Time to start over.

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