Thinking about writing can feel a bit like thinking about that phone call you keep saying you’ll make.
You play the conversation out in your mind, and the person you’re calling turns out to be in an awkward mood, and they complain about everything, and they ask you questions you’re not sure how to answer, and the conversation takes a lot longer than you thought it was going to, and the whole thing is just a big mental drain, so you end up not calling today.
Maybe tomorrow, when you’ll have more time.
But what’s stopping you from making that call isn’t lack of time, it’s fear. You’ve transformed something that will almost certainly turn out to be a relatively simple task that’ll make you feel great when it’s done, into a snarling, spitting brain-monster.
It’s the same with that writing project you’ve been thinking about.
I’m willing to bet that if you did a quick calculation of the time you’ve spent contemplating that project over the past weeks, months, or even years, you could probably have finished it by now.
You might have a rough draft, at least.
Taming the writing brain-monster starts with admitting that it’s real, and you’re scared of it. That way, you can stop cowering behind the calendar, and start learning how to defeat it, instead.
Here’s your battle plan.
Tactic 1: Break it up, so it feels easy
During January, my boyfriend and I signed up for a ’31 Miles in 31 Days’ walking challenge for a local charity.
If the challenge had been ‘31 Miles in 1 Day’, we probably wouldn’t have bothered, because walking 31 miles in one go would take us around ten-and-a-half hours, and we’re not mad.
But in taking a mere twenty-minute stroll every day, we’re ratcheting up those miles in a way that feels almost effortless.
Writing a paragraph every day, for example, might seem futile at first. But you’ll have written enough words for a blog post by the end of the week, an in-depth article by the end of the month, and a short story or a book chapter in two months.
It all adds up.
Tactic 2: Set a two-minute timer… and go!
The writer James Clear swears by his ‘two-minute rule’ to beat procrastination.
The idea behind this rule is that “when you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”
Those two minutes are the gateway to your new habit, so for example, reading before bedtime becomes “read one page.” The idea, of course, is that you end up reading more, but that isn’t as important as just getting started.
If you want to test the rule for yourself, set a timer for two minutes and write. Do that every day for a week, and see where it leads.
Tactic 3: Experiment, and see what sticks
What scares you the most about that writing monster?
If it’s uncertainty, try sitting down with a clear idea of what you’re going to write in each session. Some writers like to have everything plotted out beforehand; others (like me) prefer winging it.
If you’re worried that the results won’t be any good, you could try taking the pressure off by writing only for yourself at first, or rope in a few trusted people to give you some feedback.
There isn’t one ‘best’ way to write, only the way that works best for you. Make it your mission to find it, and it’s likely you’ll stop complaining about not having enough time.
(“There isn’t one ‘best’ way” is something I wish I’d known earlier in my career. It’s taken years to for me discover that, far from helping me to be more productive, writing schedules and goal setting were huge obstacles. When I finally removed them and started listening to my instincts instead, I wrote more.)
Of course, it might turn out that you don’t WANT to write!
If you’ve tried and tried (and tried) to find a writing method that works, but nothing is sticking, then maybe you’re just not all that interested in writing.
In that case, your writing monster might be in disguise; its real form being a sense of creative obligation. “I want to write” sounds temptingly validating; it shows that you’re not just someone who sits behind a desk all day, you’ve got a soul (dammit!)
(Popular phrases like “there’s a book in everyone” don’t help. Especially when there absolutely isn’t; some people have a painting in them, or a papier-mache hat, or a quirky song, or even a long list of numbers, instead.)
Your battle tactics will, therefore, involve finding a creative pursuit that feels like home.
In my case, I know I want to write because I keep on doing it. I’m currently writing a novel in which I’ve deleted almost as many words as I’ve kept, and that has no commercial potential whatsoever.
But I’m carrying on because — not to sound too wanky about it, though I probably will — writing is as fundamental to my life as breathing.
Accepting that was how I beat my personal monster.
Now, you go.