Most of the work in being a writer does not come from the writing itself. It comes from actually getting started in the first place.
The act of writing itself is usually pretty painless once you get going. Sure, there are days when it feels like writing is the hardest thing in the world and you have to force every word out of you, but for the most part, writing is easy enough, at least with practice.
The more you practice, the easier writing becomes.
But actually starting to write in the first place, that can be hard sometimes. There tends to be an inbuilt resistance inside that wants to prevent you from starting. You learn to recognise this resistance in yourself after a while. Eventually you come to expect and accept it, rather than fight against it.
Fighting against the resistance is not the way to go. Better to acknowledge it is there, and then simply ignore it by doing what it is you want to do anyway, which is write.
It is quite a precarious time for a writer when they initially sit down to write. After the resistance makes its presence felt, other things will try to get in your way also, things that might seem easier to do than writing. Things like distractions, procrastination and negative thought processes related to your ability, or perceived inability, to get any writing done. If you are not careful at this stage you can find yourself on a downward spiral of self loathing and depression that will end with you walking away without having done any work. As a writer, that’s not a result you want. It is also one which can have a compound effect over time, perhaps turning you off writing altogether or making you miserable all the time.
Below you will see a graphic on resistance as it relates to writing, collated from the book, The War Of Art, by Steven Pressfield, a book that is meandering at times, but still worth reading for insight into the nature of resistance.
Which is why, at this delicate stage of the writing process, it can be helpful to have certain things put into place that help you form and maintain the writing habit, and also to make sure that you ease into the process every time so that you can get some real work done.
1. Get a permanent writing space and write in it every day.
The importance of having a permanent writing space cannot be overestimated in my experience. Yes, it is possible to train yourself to be able to write anywhere (as Nic Pizzolatto of True Detective fame claims he has done), but for the most part, it is easier to write if you have somewhere private to go and do it.
Like most writers, I started writing in my bedroom as a teenager, then in whatever room was quietest as an adult. Then I wrote in a gym that I used to own. Now I have a writing shed out the back that I go to every day, as you can see in the photo.
By having a dedicated writing space, you are training your brain to associate the space with writing, which over time, will make it easier for you to go and get started.
To form a good writing habit, you need to frequent your writing space every day if possible. I aim to write every day, but some days I don’t. Life happens sometimes and that’s okay, I don’t stress over losing a day here and there, even weeks, although I try not to let that happen often.
The longer you are away from writing, the harder it will be to get started again. That is why it is most helpful to write every day if possible. It’s the best way to form and maintain the writing habit.
Once you start doing that, actually starting to write will become a lot easier, for you will find you just ease it into it naturally most of the time.
But even with a daily habit of writing in the same space, it can still be hard to get started, which is where the next two tips come in.
2. Know what you want to achieve from your writing session.
Before you begin writing, you need to have a clear idea of what direction you are going in. Just sitting down and trying to write the first thing that comes into your head won’t usually be enough to get you started. Your mind needs to know what direction you want to go in.
Whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction, you need a plan of attack, however rudimentary, before you sit down and write.
I’m not one for outlining, so I don’t do it. However, when I sit down to work on a novel, I already know, if only vaguely, what I am going to write next. I know enough to get me started. My subconscious usually takes over after that.
That’s another thing about writing every day. You end up training your subconscious to help you. When you show that you are dedicated enough to form a writing habit, your subconscious will reward your dedication by helping you write.
It is up to you how much information you think you will need in order to get started writing, and to keep writing. If you need a detailed outline to work from, then make sure you have that outline before you start writing. If you prefer to wing it like me, then at least make sure you have some idea of what direction you are going in before you try to start.
Having a vision (whether written or unwritten) of where you need to go will lessen the resistance you will inevitably feel at the beginning of every writing session.
3. Form a pre-writing ritual.
One thing I find works very well for me is to have a pre-writing ritual in place that I go through at the start of every writing session.
The goal of a pre-writing ritual is to prepare your mind for the task ahead by clearing it off distractions, calming it down and getting in touch with your subconscious.
A pre-writing ritual does not have to be anything lengthy or elaborate. I spend less than five minutes with mine. Here’s what I do:
First I close my eyes and take some slow, deep breaths. This immediately relaxes my body and calms my mind. After that I think about some of the things that I am most grateful for, like having the opportunity to sit down and write in the first place, or for having a supportive wife and family. Practicing gratitude in this way helps put me in an open and positive head space that is free from negativity. After that I tend to do affirmations. These are optional, but again they help focus me and put me in a positive frame of mind. These affirmations can be related to anything you want, not just writing. Do they work? Well, they certainly don’t hurt, and I also believe they do work, so yes. I usually finish with a bit of visualisation related to one of my main goals, followed by a vision of myself typing at the keyboard, enjoying the writing experience. This once again helps to prepare my mind for the task ahead. And that’s it!
Like I say, all that takes only a few minutes, but it goes a long way to putting me into the space I need to be in order to write. At the very least, it focuses my mind and relaxes my body, and whether I write or not, that’s always a good thing.
So those are my three tips for helping overcome resistance to make sure you get down to work every time. And really, that’s all writing is, having that ability to ensure you stay productive and keep writing.
Cultivating that ability can be a lengthy process, but as long as you keep at it, you will get there. It’s just a matter of sitting down and figuring out what works for you, through a process of trial and error, until you find a process that optimizes your creativity and productivity.
Incidentally, if you have any further tips in this regard, I’d love to hear them in the comments below. 🙂