As a writer, one of the most frightening sights I face is the blank page. It fills me with doubt, uncertainty, dread, sometimes a bit of panic, and creates an urge to run for any distraction.
I face this terror every day.
Whether I’m writing an article or a book chapter, creating something new is not easy. I open up a new document, and instantly want to go answer some emails or clean my kitchen or read that long article on magician Ricky Jay.
This is a question we all have to answer for ourselves: When you’re faced with the Resistance, what will keep you from running to distraction?
There’s no easy answer. Like many of you, I’ve tried just about everything. Nothing works every time, because the best plans crumble when you’re hit in the face by Resistance.
I’ll share what helps me.
1. Sit there, and look inside yourself.
Just because an urge arises to run doesn’t mean you have to follow it. I will feel the urge, and then sit back, and try not to take any action. I’ll look inside and feel the urge. Then I’ll try to see what I’m afraid of. When I shine a light on it, it’s not so bad.
2. Think about who you’re helping.
While Resistance is scary, it’s often not nearly as bad as the pain that someone else is facing. If you’re creating something that will positively affect someone’s life, then that’s more important than the amount of fear you’re facing. So think of that person, and put their pain above yours.
3. Think about the gift of time.
Time seems like such an endless commodity, because we never see a gauge that’s showing how much we have left. But it’s like reaching into a huge vat of cookies and pretending it will never run out. One day, you’ll feel around inside that vat and the cookies will be gone. Cookies, in this clumsy metaphor, are days in your life. Once you appreciate the limitedness of these cookies, you realize that you have to savor them, and not waste them. Each one is precious! So make the most of it: do you want to create something new, or spend your remaining time doing email and social media?
4. Just get started.
Usually all I need to do is get the ball rolling. I tell myself, “Just write one sentence.” Usually that’s something that’s so easy I can’t say no to it. So I do that, and things often flow a lot easier.
5. Remove options.
Cut off escape routes. Where do you like to run to? If it’s email, put up a site blocker so you can’t check email. Disconnect your router. Go somewhere that doesn’t have Internet. Or use a full-screen distraction-free writing app. Only allow yourself to use one tab in the browser — you can’t open more than one. Have someone monitor you or hold you accountable. Don’t let yourself run.
6. Let yourself run.
This is in direct contradiction to the previous tip, but as I said, not everything works all the time. Often I’ll open up a new document to start writing, and then immediately want to go do something else … and I go do it. I’m not perfect. I let myself run to distraction, but I’m conscious of what I’m doing. And I know that I shouldn’t do this for very long, so I only let myself do it for a few minutes. It’s like giving yourself a bite or two of cake but not letting yourself gorge on the cake. It’s OK to take a bite if you put the fork down right after. Sometimes the fearful mind just needs a bit of a break from the scariness, but don’t let it hide forever.
7. Go for a walk.
I will get up, walk around, sometimes even go outside and take a 10-minute walk. This walk is good because it gets me away from distractions and helps me think through what I want to write. Often I’ll come up with some good ideas on the walk and then be excited to get them on paper, and the Resistance will be gone.
8. Talk to someone.
If I’m struggling, I’ll find someone to talk to, and explain my problem. Often this act, and the need to clarify it and state it succinctly, helps me clarify it in my head. And sometimes the answer to whatever problem I’m facing becomes incredibly obvious once I’ve stated the problem out loud.
I’ll say it again:
No one of these solutions will work all the time. But if we think of the struggle against Resistance as a cage fight, think of these ideas as different modes of attack. When one doesn’t work, switch to a different mode, until one does work.
Resistance will always be a tough opponent, but when it smacks you in the face, don’t collapse. You have more in you than that.