“When you’re cleaning the refrigerator, sharpening pencils, or eating, just know that’s what you’re doing: experiencing resistance! It’s no big thing. Don’t put yourself down, feel guilty, feel worthless, or punish yourself in any way. Just acknowledge the resistance – then move right through to the other side. Just don’t pretend it’s not happening. It is! Once you deal with your resistance, you’re ready to start writing.”
Syd Field, author of Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting
Sometimes our writing journey is a lot like the journey our heroes and heroines must make: It’s full of obstacles — thorny patches, unexpected detours, and seductive attractions that threaten to lead us astray. But as Syd Field so wisely notes, many of these barriers are really about resistance.
In a recent post for BookBaby.com, Jim Dempsey, an associate editor at Novel Gazing, a professional editing site, offered a simple, but useful approach to dealing with barriers and the resistance that they often reflect.
First, start by identifying your barriers: Note down everything that keeps you from writing. Include in your list: 1) obstacles that keep you from getting started and 2) things that distract you when you are in the middle of writing. Items on your list could be anything from external circumstances like illness or family demands to negative self-talk: “I can’t do this,” “I’m no good at writing,” “This part of my memoir is too painful to write.” Whatever the barriers you’re encountering, make a note of each one.
Second, analyze your list. As you do, you’ll probably see that, just like characters in any good story, you’ve pinpointed both external and internal barriers. So divide your list into two parts: external barriers and internal barriers. Then regroup them under each heading. As Jim observes, “Most barriers are not actual barriers but only function as them. They might make it difficult to write at the times or in the way or place you had hoped to write, but they don’t really block your ability to write.”
Third, focus on your external barriers. You may find that some of these don’t, in fact, prevent you from writing — they seem to be obstacles, but in reality, they’re not — they just function that way. Others may be temporary: a sick child or a holiday event. Some may involve some effort to overcome: a broken computer, for example, which may require you to organize a repair and use one at the library for a few days.
Fourth, dig a little deeper: Sometimes external barriers are really internal, self-imposed obstacles. As Jim puts it, “But maybe you’re just too busy to write. That could be true. It could also be that being busy is an excuse you tell even yourself. In fact, your external barriers can often (certainly not always) be caused by internal barriers, and those internal barriers can be easier to overcome. The next step then, is to find the internal barrier in your external barrier. You can do this by examining your external goals a little deeper. Try to see if there could be any internal reasons why these external goals exist, and again make a list.” Then add these additional internal barriers to your earlier list.
Fifth, take action: Most external barriers can be overcome with some thought and planning. And as Jim says so well, “Identifying the internal barriers is already a big step. You can now recognize them when they appear, and that means you have the choice to act upon them or not.” If you feel your project is too difficult, you can set small writing goals so you don’t feel overwhelmed. If you find yourself discouraged, you can push yourself to write another 500 words before stopping. Once you take action, many of these barriers, both internal and external, will melt away. Write on.