Anxiety and Resistance Around Writing? Why Writing Rituals Are Not the Answer.
I know now that I’m a writer, and when you’re a writer, that’s just the way it goes.
I got an email from a writer the other day who had questions about writing rituals. I’ve talked to a good many writers who have these same questions, and of course, I’ve also seen many of the articles out there on the writing routines and habits of famous writers.
We writers seem to have a fascination with how other writers work. We want to know what their desk looks like and if it includes a view, what time they start working in the morning or afternoon, and if they do anything “special” to make the words flow.
This fascination we have with the work process (not the creative process, that’s something different, but the actual nuts-and-bolts procedure of another writer sitting down to work), this has always intrigued me.
Why do we place such importance on the rituals other writers have in place around their work process? Why are we so hungry for these details?
If I had to take a guess, I would say that most writers find it hard to sit down and write. I would also say that most writers believe it is harder for them to sit down and write than it is for any other writer.
Writers tend to be idealistic, intense people. Because of this it’s easy for us to idealize other people and exaggerate their talents, as well as their shortcomings.
This is a wonderful trait to have when you’re developing a character and trying to highlight and enhance the core qualities that psychologically define a person, but it can cause difficulty in real life, when you fail to see that your struggles and resistance to writing are actually quite normal and ordinary.
I have been writing seriously for 14 years. I have coached other writers for seven. I have been in writing programs and facilitated my own writing groups and taught writing classes. I have talked to and worked with hundreds of writers at this point and I can tell you from all this experience that almost EVERY writer I have ever come across finds it hard to sit down and write.
Almost every single one of us comes to it with a mixture of resistance, hopefulness, dread, and anxiety, almost every single time.
Why is this?
Well, from what I’ve observed it’s a mixture of things. Writing actually is difficult, for starters. It’s like running for exercise. No matter how fast or slow or far you go, it’s a pain getting started. Your body has to go from a perfectly fine, calm, resting state to sweating, panting, intense efforting.
Once you’re in the flow of it, it’s pretty much okay, but breaking out of the inertia of just standing or normal walking into the intensity of full-out running doesn’t feel all that pleasant. It does get better if you run regularly, because your system gets more and more used to it, and this is where it’s sometimes helpful to adopt the “write every day” method.
After a while, you can’t help but to logically notice that you never WANT to start writing but you always CAN force yourself to begin.
But this is only one side of the equation. Because, unlike running, writing is not a neutral activity. Writers tend to put about a thousand pounds of expectations on writing and what it should do for them, what it should look like coming out of them, how other people are going to react to it, what it proves about their talents, etc.
For most of us writers, our writing carries a lot of baggage. We’re terrified that the story in our head won’t translate to the page and when we see those first few clumsy sentences, we instantly jump to the conclusion that we suck as a writer.
Or, we write a few sentences and then we feel stuck and we decide that we’re not cut out to be a writer because Stephen King probably never gets stuck.
On top of this, we assume that all the other writers out there know exactly what they’re doing and don’t ever struggle with this same resistance and anxiety we’re experiencing. I can’t tell you how many writers I’ve talked to who have asked me, “How can I be a writer if I have so much trouble writing?” Or, “How can it be my destiny to be a writer if I dread sitting down to write so much?”
This is when we start looking around at what everyone else is doing. We decide that maybe if we get up at 6:00am to write every day like one of our writing idols, that would work.
Or maybe if we rented a little cottage by the sea like another one of our writing heroes, that would work. Maybe if we did this, maybe if we did that. And all the time we’re not cutting ourselves any slack because we can’t see that there is nothing wrong with us as writers. We’re just…writers. And this is how it is for writers.
People ask me all the time about my own personal writing rituals and, all the time, I disappoint them with my answer. I don’t have any. I grab a quick 30 minutes to work on my novel while my son is playing videogames.
I go out to the garage and sit in my car to write a blog post because it’s the only quiet place I have access to at the moment. I text myself little notes about writing ideas while I’m cooking dinner.
I am constantly, constantly saying, “One minute,” or “Can you give me five minutes?” Or, “Hold on,” to my husband or my son or my neurotic cat.
And always, I feel that same dread and resistance that writers feel about writing. I never really want to sit down to write. Even when I’ve negotiated for the time and planned for it and I know I have only these precious minutes all week to work on my own stuff. I still don’t want to do it, not even then.
But I don’t beat myself up for it, not anymore. I know now that I’m a writer, and when you’re a writer, that’s just the way it goes.