Saturday, June 22, 2013


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?


  1. From now on, I'll think of my resistance as Snidely Whiplash and expect Dudley Do-Right to rescue me. :-)

    Seriously, this is a very helpful post. I definitely have that resistance problem. On the upside, my house is very clean!

  2. Joyce, it helps to personify, don't you think? :-)

  3. Linda, you left out cleaning the refrigerator! Seriously, great post. I likethe second project idea. Sometimes I also trick myself - I promise myself that if I work on "it" for a certain # of minutes (10, 15) that I can quick. Usually once I start, I get past that wall and go go go. Sometimes I clean the fridge. :-)

  4. Yes, Sheila, cleaning the fridge, for sure. I never notice how much mess my house contains until I'm dealing with resistance. Then, it's like, "OMG! I cannot live like this another minute!"

    Yes, the timer trick works well, too. I can do anything for 15 minutes--if I know I can stop at the end of those minutes.

  5. Linda, I like the secondary project that might turn into a primary project idea. I'm not sure I know how to implement it without its taking over the primary place before its time. Do you just set a goal for the primary and then as reward you work on your secondary? If you have found that works I will try it. It makes me a little nervous though.

  6. Reine, first you select one of the other projects you want to do to designate as your secondary project. It works best for me if it's pretty different from the main project--thriller or fantasy versus mystery--and if it's at an earlier stage than the main project. So perhaps you'd be making notes and exploring characters or planning the plotline while you're writing the first draft on the main project. Because of these differences, it will make a nice reward and a change. I often use some project that's very different from what I normally do. It's a nice way to explore a new genre and see if it works for you as a writer.

    The trick to keep it from taking over the main project is to have a strong commitment to the main project, which you'll have with a contract deadline, but before you have one of those, you can set an artificial one, a critique group or beta reader who is expecting a draft of so many chapters by such and such a date is one good way to do this.

    Also, I use a kitchen timer or the alarm clock timer I have on my laptop to limit the time I can spend on the secondary project. But then I'm used to using a timer constantly to make me get up and move around, so my muscles and joints won't freeze up.

    I hope it works for you as well as it works for me. xoxoxo

  7. Nice article Linda. I really enjoy reading your advices and admire you tremendously. I like the idea of a side project. I'm going to have to implement it. What I do now is try to target myself for a certain number of words everyday without fail. Then if I write more I feel really good. However, sometimes I'm up really late meeting my target!

  8. It works for me and for a lot of writers I know, but of course, it won't necessarily work for everyone. You have to have a certain amount of discipline not to just go off on the secondary project and leave your main one.

  9. Thank you, Linda.

    Oh! My secondary project can be the thriller I've been thinking about that I just can't do it as a short story. I was about to abandon it but couldn't quite let go of the story. This will be a great way to work on it as a larger project.

    I love the timer idea. I use timers anyway for reasons similar to yours. I tried to use the built in weight shift timer on my wheelchair, but that doesn't work very well. Now I use a timer on my iPad or computer. I could add in a special time setting for the secondary project then activate it as needed.


  10. That sounds like a perfect project, Reine1 Yeah, timers are my friend. I downloaded a free alarm clock timer to my laptop plus I have kitchen timers all over the house. You can get a little digital timer about the size of two stamps that you can hang around your neck, too. Best of luck!

    1. Kitchen timers sound perfect. They're very simple to operate, and I wouldn't have to worry about programming them. I'm going to look for a desktop timer app for my computer as well. There are lots of clocks that you can use as timers, but I think my answer is just a bare-bones timer.

      I get the best ideas from you, Linda. Thank you.

    2. Reine, this is the computer timer I use.

  11. Linda, that's a very nice design. Thanks!