How Writers Procrastinate Evolves: Stopping writing when the writing is going well

Steven Pressfield is well-known for his books about resistance, particularly in regards to writing.

Resistance, as Pressfield presents it, is the internal struggle we experience every time we sit down to write. 

Resistance can stop us on the macro level, beginning a new project, and the micro level, setting a timer and writing for thirty minutes. 

Procrastination is the most common way that resistance can show up, but it’s note the only way. Self-doubt, criticism, perfectionism, fear, limiting internal narratives and so on.

When you first start taking writing seriously, it is easier to spot how resistance manifests for you. But as time goes on and you develop ways to manage your unique form of resistance, Pressfield argues, resistance becomes sneakier.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about this weird habit I have of stopping writing when the writing is going well.

It seems to happen whenever I’ve ‘tipped’ over into a flow state. 

I’m a big fan of using the pomodoro technique as a way to measure my writing sessions. I set a timer and write for 25 minutes and then have a five-minute break. If I write for three or four hours, the first session is by far the hardest, the second is easier, and then the middle sessions are the easiest. I sort of wind-up into the writing, and then wind down towards the session’s end. 

Sometimes, just as I finally start to warm up, something might happen; I get an idea, write a really great line, or I notice an unintended connection in the story and I get really excited. This sudden insight causes a spur of energy and my inspiration increases because of all the possibilities this new information brings, or maybe I just feel a little bit chuffed with myself… 

But then, and here’s the weird thing, this burst of energy pushes me out of the story and as my cognitive mind comes into play I feel compelled to do something else, like make a cup of tea or check my emails, or check social media (otherwise known as the productivity kiss of death). I almost never post about these moments in real time, but there is this weird compulsion to tell somebody about this sudden insight. 

The problem is, there’s no one around to share this information with, or they don’t know the story like I do, and even if they did, it can be difficult to recreate this strange feeling of ‘eureka’ in an email. 

Sometimes, even when I’ve slipped into a flow state or I’ve managed to otherwise immerse myself in the story’s world, there is this weird restlessness that can occur and this too can eject me from the story. 

It often happens when I am finally starting to get somewhere with a project. The words are coming out and I can feel the story steamrolling ahead. This is every writer’s desired state: we long to reach this point where the writing is more play than work. 

I’ve heard so many people–including myself—talk about how writing is always hardest at the beginning. And what I mean is, the first 10-60 minutes of any given session (I’m giving a wide berth here as we’re all different!). 

We all talk a lot about how to eliminate distractions and impose self-discipline while writing so that we don’t self-sabotage by checking email or social media etc, but I’ve heard few people talk about this weird form of procrastination that occurs during a writing session, when the writing is going well, and frankly, because the writing is going well. 

And this is what I mean about resistance becoming sneakier. 

You might have some solid habits and rules when it comes to writing, such as switching your phone off, writing in a distraction free environment, and ignoring your inner-critic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve beaten resistance for good. 

When we make writing a habit, not writing feels weird, but it doesn’t magically become easier. Usually, we just get better at sitting with the discomfort of not knowing what we are doing or the discomfort of how difficult it can be to make something out of nothing. 

The self-sabotaging behaviour of stopping when the writing is going well is just one more way resistance can present itself. So how do you deal with it? Surprisingly, the same way you deal with most forms of resistance. You need to be able to identify what is happening and know that your sudden impulse to check emails or make a cup of tea instead of continuing with the scene is Resistance’s attempt to keep your story small. 

There are a number of general ways to deal with resistance and they work just as well for this particular scenario as any other. For instance, Pressfield often talks about the idea of choosing to act like a professional rather than an amateur. A professional would stay with the work and see the session or scene through to the end. If the impulse to stop writing is too great, you could spend a few minutes writing about this urge as a way to pacify it and get it out of your system. You can quickly remind yourself why you are writing this book (hint: it’s a great idea to have your ‘why’ written on a notecard near your desk) as a way to recommit to the session, or if all else fails, bribe yourself with the promise of a reward when the session is complete. 

None of this advice is original, but it’s free and easily accessible which is probably why you’ve heard it a million times already. Plus, they work. Usually. 

This post wasn’t written for the sake of neatly solving this sticky problem, instead, I wrote it simply to bring light to the issue. 1) because it’s important to be aware of all the ways that resistance can appear in our writing routines 2) resistance becomes sneakier over time and 3) maybe this is something that happens to you but you’ve never heard anyone talk about before.

I hope it helps! Now go forth and write into that flow state without fear and without the need to hit the eject button!

Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

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