Writing through resistance: Tips for getting to the page and staying there
The image I have set as the cover on my Facebook profile bears this quote: “There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: 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.”
The quote is unattributed so I don’t know what its author meant by “Resistance,” but I know what it means to me. “Resistance” is everything else in life that isn’t writing.
Maybe some writers don’t feel that way, and that’s fine. But so many of us are squeezing writing in when we can, around work and children and obligations to our families and communities, around exhaustion and stress and concerns about money or health.
And don’t forget the biggest sources of resistance: our own self-doubt, fear, lack of confidence, anxiety, and inner critic. Of course there are the external critics, too, if we publish and share our work.
All of these things are the resistance we have to push through to get to our desks, chairs, journals, computers.
What’s helped me fight the resistance over the years? A few things, really:
- A little help from my friends. Having a writing community, or even just one person you trust to be compassionately critical of your art, is invaluable. Be sure to return the favor! If you’re feeling ambitious, take a writing class or workshop, attend a writing retreat, or join a book club or writers group.
- Tracking my projects via a journal. Writing about my writing life might seem superfluous, but it helps me qualify the time I spend. After I write a book review, edit someone’s work, blog, finish an essay or poem, or read a great book, I reflect on it in my journal.
- Reading widely. You will encounter good writing, and you will encounter bad writing. The good writing can inspire you to push yourself more; the bad can show you that maybe you don’t have as much to be self-conscious about as you think.
- Reading out of my comfort zone. Atheists should read spiritual writing. White people should read writers of color. Quiet, reserved writers should attend slam poetry performances. We should always be trying to push what is possible with words, and to bear witness to what others are doing to push it. Doing so can lead to breakthroughs and make us more involved and well-rounded writers AND people, which builds confidence.
- Creating a routine around my creative process. Identify what time of day you are most inspired, or alert, or otherwise likely to write (for me, it’s early in the morning before my two-year-old son wakes up, or while he’s napping in the afternoon). Try to write regularly at that time. If you like to drink coffee as a morning writer, or wine as an evening writer, do so. I know writers who put on specific articles of clothing, drink a certain type of tea, or do some deep breathing or yoga poses before sitting down to write. What gets you in the mood to put words down doesn’t matter as much as actually putting them down.
Developing a regular writing practice can be one of the great rewards of studying writing, whether you do that within the context of an MFA program or an independent writing course like those offered here at the Center. Applying the structure of a course, writing program, or group to your own life, repurposing those deadlines and daily/weekly goals, can help you prioritize writing and make it part of your routine.