Write More Easily: Understanding, Embracing and Moving Beyond Resistance

by Ali on September 24, 2013

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writing-resistance

Image from Flickr by William Brawley

In this month’s seminar for Writers’ Huddle, I talked about resistance – a powerful force that can stop us writing, if misunderstood and unchecked.

Resistance is feeling you don’t want to do something – even when you know you’ll feel good afterwards.

Here are just a few of the things I’ve felt resistance about in my life … do any of them sound familiar to you?

  • Tidying my desk
  • Writing essays
  • Making phone calls
  • Writing blog posts
  • Exercising
  • Writing my novel

… as you can see, writing comes up a lot!

The strange thing is, all of these are good things. As a student, I felt good once I’d completed an essay. Heck, I even quite enjoyed writing it – once I got started.

The same goes for exercising. I might think ugh, I don’t want to … but once I get moving, I love it.

Why Writing Causes Resistance

It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.   What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.

(Steven Pressfield, War of ArtAmazon.com / Amazon.co.uk)

Hopefully, you enjoy writing. Even if there are bits of it that you hate (I’m really not keen on proof reading), there’s plenty about it that you love.

Sometimes, though – perhaps quite often – you don’t feel like writing. Just the thought of sitting down to write makes you feel like taking a nap.

You want the writing muse to descend: you want to feel in the mood for writing.

So you do the dishes, or watch TV, or hang out on Facebook, and wait.

And wait.

Sometimes, that inspiration comes. Maybe you get a great idea for a blog post and you want to get it all down. Perhaps you start thinking about that big showdown two of your characters are going to have – and you can’t wait to get to it.

More often, inspiration seems very far away. The resistance that your writing’s causing just gets stronger.

Accept – and Even Embrace – Resistance

The resistance you feel is not a signal that you shouldn’t be writing.

Occasionally, it does alert you to a problem in your work: perhaps you’re resisting getting going on Chapter 10 because there’s a big plot hole in Chapter 9 that you really need to deal with first.

Usually, though, there isn’t any problem with your writing: resistance is just something that all writers naturally feel.

In War of Art, Steven Pressfield describes resistance as “the most toxic force on the planet” and sees it as the enemy, something that we need to stand up to and defeat.

That can be a useful way to look at it, but I prefer a slightly more positive approach. For me, that feeling of resistance simply means that you’re doing something worthwhile.

Or, as Mark Forster puts it,

One of the points I made strongly in my first book Get Everything Done And Still Have Time to Play was that I could use my resistance to doing certain tasks as a guide. The reason for this is that the things I tend to resist are those that take me out of my comfort zone. And the things which take me out of my comfort zone tend to be those actions which are going to take my life forward. If I just do those things which I feel comfortable doing, I will end up stuck in a rut.

(Get Everything Done And Still Have Time to Play is a fantastic, short, practical time management book that I highly recommend – get it on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)

You don’t necessarily have to fight and conquer your resistance: you can accept it, use it as a sign that you’re working on something important … and find ways to sidestep it.

Moving Past Resistance

It’s better to avoid resistance than waste your energy battling head on. Yes, you can overcome resistance with gritted teeth and iron determination – but for me at least, that’s not a great route to creative, in-the-zone writing.

To avoid resistance as much as possible:

Make writing a regular habit: that way, it’s easier to keep going. You might feel some initial resistance at the start of each writing session, but it won’t be so strong. Writing daily is great, but you don’t have to: once or twice a week is fine.

Act before resistance grows. If you’re feeling reluctant to write, get to it as soon as you can. The longer you put it off, the harder it will be. (Caveat: if you’re genuinely tired or low on energy, you might want to wait – but at least set a specific start time for your writing.)

Remind yourself what you love about writing. I really like the “taste it” principle from Pace Smith, whop’s great at writing about peaceful motivation. For me, reading about writing, or doing a ten-minute free write, often makes me forget all about the resistance I was feeling.

Use the “open the document” trick. I got this one from Mark Forster, who suggests taking the first tiny step toward your goal – like opening the document that contains your novel. Taking any action will reduce resistance, and something as simple as this can be enough to get you writing.

 

You don’t have to meet resistance head-on. You don’t have to fight and struggle every day … but you don’t have to give in either.

Feeling an occasional or even a frequent sense of resistance doesn’t mean you’re not cut out to be a writer. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: it means you’re doing something worthwhile.

If you’re struggling with resistance right now, or if you’ve got a tip to share, just let us know in the comments.

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Monday Must-Reads [09/30/13] - YESENIA VARGAS
October 3, 2013 at 12:57 am

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Joel D Canfield September 25, 2013 at 9:15 pm

I wasn’t totally comfortable with Steve’s take on going to war with Resistance.

But I can’t totally accept Seth Godin’s call to partner with it.

I’ve been working for a while on a book I might call “Making Peace with Making Art” about this third way.

Resistance is a bully. I deal with bullies by making them irrelevant. (And Steve might face them down, and Seth might partner with them. It’s not about right answers, it’s about the right answer for me.)

Love reading you say this stuff, Ali. Nice to know I’m not the only one looking for a third way to deal with Resistance.
Joel D Canfield’s last blog post ..Book Trailer: The Myths of Creativity by David Burkus

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Ali October 1, 2013 at 3:38 pm

Joel, I like the idea of a third way. I’ve not read much of Seth Godin’s writing (bits and pieces, but somehow I’ve never quite gelled with his style).

Ultimately, I don’t think it matters whether we fight resistance, partner with it, or make it irrelevant — so long as we don’t simply lie down and get trampled by it. (And so long as the solution is one that works long-term, rather than being a short term fix: for me, the “go to war” approach would get me through NaNoWriMo but would be a miserable way to build a career and a life around writing.)

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Raspal September 27, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Hi Ali !

Nice post and I like and use two of your techniques to overcome resistance – writing daily and reading about writing.

There’s another one I have used before and it worked too, but that wasn’t just about writing. It was about anything that we feel resistance doing. The trick was to do make a list of things to do in the day and then without thinking, start to do the hardest thing from that list. This has worked for me many times. If we think about doing or not doing, then resistance comes into the picture, but without thinking about it and just start doing something makes it easy. I think this trick was from Steve Pavlina which I used to read. Still read his blog sometimes.

I remember a proverb from my school days which went like: ”The ladder of success is half-won, when one gains the habit or work”. It so true, isn’t it?

Looking forward to a post on blog for writers. :)

Raspal from India

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Ali October 1, 2013 at 3:40 pm

Raspal, that’s a neat trick, and it sounds like something Steve Pavlina would recommend. I used to read his blog when it was more straightforwardly personal development — I’m afraid he lost me with some of the more esoteric stuff!

I’ve definitely had plenty of times in my life when I’ve spent ages thinking about something, putting it off, etc, and resistance has built up … whereas as soon as I get on and do it, it’s always much easier than I thought it would be. :-)

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Raspal September 27, 2013 at 6:41 pm

Sorry, for the typo, I meant: “The ladder of success is half-won, when one gains the habit of work”. It’s so true, isn’t it?

Raspal
Raspal’s last blog post ..Test post for just displaying all categories

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Raspal October 1, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Hi again, Ali!

Yes, there have been so many times when we feel like we can’t do something or the other and keep thinking. Then, when we finally do it, it gets done as if there was no resistance at all and it was so easy. It’s the silly, conscious mind which comes between success and failure for doing anything, or creating confusion, fear, anxiety etc. That’s why some people program themselves to do certain things just before sleeping or waking up – when the brain waves are alpha and the mind is much at peace.

BTW, I joined the Ultimate Blog Challenge and wrote my first blog post just an hour ago. Will be writing two blog posts daily, one for each of my blogs. I felt so nice after writing the first post today. :)
Raspal’s last blog post ..My First Real Post and the Ultimate Blog Challenge

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Ali October 16, 2013 at 9:38 pm

Good for you on getting the post written, Raspal! Hope it’s been going well over the past couple of weeks for you. :-)

That’s an interesting point about doing things just before sleeping or waking up — when I did my MA in creative writing, one of our guest speakers recommended writing either last thing at night or first thing in the morning, to get better access to the “dream state”.

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Pranav October 7, 2013 at 3:56 am

A great article.Thanks a lot!

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C.S. Kinnaird August 26, 2014 at 2:05 am

Wow! What a great post. I have been dealing with resistance for the last week while working on the second draft of a novel, and I find your post to be very relevant and helpful.

Thanks for sharing!!

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