Note from Marcus*** This is a guest post from my friend Paul Wolfe at One Spoon at a Time. I hope everyone, upon reading this article, helps Paul out with his growing community and stops by his site to give a little support to his new blog.
“Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”
This quote about writing – from author Gene Fowler – plays up to the stereotype of the writer as a struggling creative who must wait for divine intervention from the muse before he or she can capture their staggering brilliance on paper.
And for every writer who actually writes regularly there are thousands who suffer from ‘writer’s block.’
Maybe tens of thousands.
And it doesn’t have to be this way – because I don’t believe writer’s block actually exists. Writer’s block is a name people give to the inbuilt resistance that we all have to actually sitting down and writing.
Before we look at how to actually beat Resistance, let’s explore it a bit further.
So What Exactly Is Resistance?
The term ‘Resistance’ was coined by best selling author Steven Pressfield in his book “The War Of Art.” Basically Resistance is an internal force that all writers, indeed all content creators, have to overcome to produce their work on a regular basis.
Resistance comes from the Ego parts of our brain. One of the jobs that’s been assigned to the Ego by thousands of years of evolution is self-preservation. And the Ego has learned that one of the easiest ways of self-preservation is to love the status quo and abhor change.
Why? Because change brings….well, change. And with change comes new challenges, new obstacles, and possible new dangers. So the Ego will resist change, and try and maintain a situation of status quo.
How Does Resistance to Writing Manifest Itself?
Resistance has got many plays in its playbook to stop us writing. How many of you have experienced any of these when you sat down to write a blog post or article for your website:
(i) Suddenly finding lots of non-urgent tasks to do before you commence writing.
(ii) Suffering from self-doubt.
(iii) Slowing down your writing with persistent editing and re-editing.
(iv) Here’s my favourite: coming up with another, and potentially more brilliant, idea in the middle of your writing.
Now by definition you are creative – you’re a writer, right? – and you can devise strategies to overcome and bypass all of these methods that Resistance uses to try and stop you writing.
But remember what I said about Resistance coming from the Ego? And how the Ego is in charge of self-preservation? Well knowing that can lead us to a tactic that we can use that will not only get rid of resistance, but actively enlist the Ego on our side so that it wants us to do our writing. No, not only does it want us to do our writing – it NEEDS us to do our writing.
How can we get the ego on our side?? – we use a deadline.
The Power of Deadlines
It’s all to do with self-preservation. In most situations the Ego wants the status quo – because it is safe, and it is a known quantity. And it will fight tooth and nail to resist change – because change brings the unknown. And maybe danger.
So what we have to do is turn the tables on the Ego and make the status quo a position that the Ego will associate with ‘danger’ and make change – the act of writing – something that will get us out of danger. Do that and the Ego will fight tooth and nail with us – as a willing ally – to make sure our writing gets done.
Setting a deadline for your writing can accomplish that.
Here’s the thing though – the deadline has got to mean something. It’s no use just writing in your writing plan that you’re going to write an article on Tuesday and expecting the Ego to climb aboard the writing train.
Nope. You’ve got to fight smarter than that. And harder. And dirtier. You’ve got to make your deadline unbreakable.
How Do I Make My Deadline Unbreakable?
Your deadline has got to mean something. If you miss it, something bad has got to happen. Something bad enough to make the Ego sit up and take notice.
So if you write a really popular blog with thousands of readers and commit to publishing every Monday, Wednesday and Friday – well, that would probably do it. If you miss the publishing deadline and start getting a ton of emails in your Inbox asking what happened to today’s post….well, the Ego will hate that.
It will cringe every time your email program pings and another email drops in.
But What If I Don’t Have A Popular Blog? How Can I Set An Unbreakable Deadline?
OK, true story time. I run a website dealing with the teaching of the bass guitar to beginners and intermediate players. One of the ways that site generates income is via a Membership Ezine. The Subscription to the Ezine is $97 annually, and every Friday at 5.00PM GMT I email out a PDF that’s somewhere between 45 to 65 pages long. Last Friday’s issue was Number 74 – so I’ve been doing it for around 17 months.
In that time period I’ve never been late. Not once. That includes holidays, birthdays, illnesses and all the other stuff that’s woven into the tapestries of our lives. Here’s the thing though – most weeks I don’t start writing the magazine until 9.30 AM on Thursday morning.
And between then and 5.00 PM the next day I’ve created my 50 page Ezine. For sure some weeks I’m up on Thursday night until way past midnight, but not always. But when I sit down to start work on the Ezine every Thursday my own Resistance vanishes – because there are 300 plus people waiting for that Ezine to come out. If they don’t get it they WILL email me and ask where it is.
My Ego hates the thought of those emails – and come Thursday morning it slides right out of the way and let’s me get on with my content creation.
Creating Your Own Unbreakable Deadline
To create your own unbreakable deadline what you need to do is find a way where the result of not meeting the deadline is worse than meeting the deadline.
Say you want to write an eBook to sell on your website and you’re struggling to make the time to write – create a deadline by pre-selling it to your audience. Once you’ve got $1000 or more in your Paypal account – and 50 or more purchasers waiting for your promised publication date – I guarantee that you’ll get the seat of your pants firmly applied to the seat of your chair on a regular basis until that eBook is written.
How about if you want to maintain a regular blog posting schedule? Try something like this – post on your blog what your schedule is going to be. And then post that every time you miss the publication date you’re going to donate $100 to the MacMillan Trust or another equally good cause.
Remember that you’re a writer – so by definition you are creative. Come up with a creative way to make your own unbreakable deadline that the Ego won’t want to be broken – because it hurts - and you’ll find that all the personal barriers to writing will fade away.
1) If you write you suffer resistance in one form or another. Reading Steven Pressfield’s ‘The War Of Art’ will take you a long way towards a greater understanding resistance.
2) Remember that resistance is driven by the ego – and is part of its ‘self preservation’ mechanism. The Ego abhors change.
3) But you can turn the tables on your Ego – if the ego perceives the status quo of not writing to be more damaging than actually writing it will quickly realign itself and positively support your writing or content creation activities.
4) You turn the tables on your Ego by setting a deadline. That deadline has to have meaning – something that the Ego perceives as ‘bad’ has to happen if you break the deadline.
The Next Step
Writing or any form of content creation done on a regular basis is truly The War Of Art. Using Deadlines is one tactic that we can employ against resistance. You’ll find some more on the blog portion of my website. Maybe start here : How To Avoid Writers Block 1 – The Professional Mindset