You’ve started your story or novel, and you have a few good pages that you’re pleased with. You have to go out of town (or do something else) for a few days, but you know where you’re going with your writing project, and you can’t wait until you get back to the story you’re working on. When you do return, you set up time to write and do everything you can to be prepared and in perfect shape to work. The morning/afternoon/evening to get started again happens and bang! You run smack into some invisible force that refuses to let you write those pages that you want and need to write.
This is resistance, and it’s the common companion of the writer. It’s the enemy, an internal saboteur, fifth column located inside your head. You may find yourself checking email or Facebook or Twitter, going online to do some research that suddenly seems imperative and falling down the Google rabbit hole. You might find yourself organizing your desk or your files or doing a load or three of laundry. You may find yourself cleaning out closets or suddenly running errands that you’ve been putting off for days or weeks, which have suddenly become imperative. Anything, anything at all, but write what you’ve set yourself to write.
As someone who writes for a living, I’ve a long, close acquaintanceship with my own resistance. Often, I believe I have it under control. Then, it shows up in some new form to devil me. Often, it can be quite persuasive. It is true that any project, especially a big one, will be easier to accomplish in an organized space. It’s true that some research needs to be done before you put words to paper. And often clearing the decks before you work can leave your mind readier to sink into your created world. It whispers perfectly plausible excuses to me that will end up keeping me from writing or from writing as much or as well as I want and intend to write.
One of the ways I’ve found to subdue my resistance is to always have another ongoing project. This takes advantage of one of resistance’s own techniques to throw it against itself as judo and other martial arts do.
This does not mean, “Start another book.” All those million new book ideas that that resistance sends trying to seduce you from your project should just be written down in an idea notebook or document and promptly forgotten until the book is over and it’s time to look for new concepts. No, I’m talking about another project that you’ve decided ahead of time you want to work on in addition to the main project rather than instead of the main project.
I offer myself the reward of working on this secondary story when I’ve met my goal on the main project. If it’s a very bad day and resistance is winning, I might allow myself to work on the other project first for a limited time to get my writing muscles moving. I set a timer, though, and when it rings, I must move onto the main book. Often, I may be doing something that’s more fun on the secondary project, such as research or exploratory planning and note making. This makes it an ideal reward.
The nice thing about using a secondary project in this way is that, often by the time I’ve finished my main project, my secondary project is well underway and becomes my new main project while I set up a new secondary project to help me deflect the power resistance wields over me. Stephen King once said, “A change is as good as a rest,” and I think he was right. Also, this technique weakens the power of resistance by making it believe that I am giving way to it, at least somewhat. Yet, it keeps me productive.
What do you do when you encounter resistance? Have you found successful ways to defeat it?