“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
– Maya Angelou
For a long time, I believed the common wisdom about being a more productive writer.
I took the usual advice about setting small steps, getting on a schedule and visualizing the end goal. But I could never follow through. Was there something wrong with me? Why couldn’t I stick with the program? Had I just not found the right tool yet?
I began to wonder if I had what it took. Were deeper issues keeping me from achieving my high-minded dream?
I suspected there were many writers like me–I hoped there were–how else could there be so much instruction out there on how to write? But I still felt all alone in my struggle and everyone else seemed able to write a novel in a month or make all the tools and tips work for them. I liked the tips at first, but after a couple weeks, I was unable to keep it up. Maybe it’s only when you’ve tried those tools and found them insufficient that you know you’ve got a deeper issue. Maybe I was fundamentally broken–and emphasis on the mental part.
So I began to wonder, How do you know if you need to deal with a deeper root problem?
Instead of just continuing to feel inadequate, embarrassed, maybe lazy, when is it time to ask why, if you do want to write, don’t you do it?
As a writer, I can honestly say this is the writing problem I’ve struggled with most. And an editor and coach, this is where I’ve decided to specialize because the psychological anguish–the angst of being stymied, blocked, obstructed, hornswaggled, constipated– it turns out the struggle is not unusual.
Most of my authors admit they’ve experienced it–and the rest are big fat liars.
The issue is soul deep, and no matter how simple the “steps to success” appeared, nothing else worked for me before this.
The tools and tips about practices or methods may become useful after sorting out this one thing. But for me, there was a psychological tool I needed that freed me to ignore a lot of practical writing advice.
It was permission.
I know. It sounds weak. But basically, I needed permission to stop focusing on productivity. If you find you can’t be productive, just stop trying, and start be unproductive. If you can’t progress, let go and rest in the process.
You’ve likely been sabotaging yourself.
Despite my best efforts to write, I’d always end up rebelling and running off into ever-more elaborate distractions. I’d get a new tip and write hard for a few days but eventually I’d resent the work again and go numb out on all kinds of surrogate thrills.
Then I’d find another writing coaches’ idea (there are plenty!) about getting a separate computer, or using Pomodoros, or setting rewards. And they’d work for a few days, then completely stop working when I’d fail and become wracked with guilt, lament my hopeless situation again, and swear on Merlin’s beard I’d find the lasting method for ultimate flow and actualizing optimum productivity….
But now, after well over 10 years of on-and-off-again novel-writing, I found my answer. It’s a deceptively simple method that effectively erases what I produce as the end goal of sitting down to write.
If you’re prone to over-analysis and perfectionism, this could solve your problem of low productivity forever. Ready?
Give yourself permission to stop being productive.
That’s it. Instead of focusing on the product, the word count, the perfect words needed for the Book, focus on the process of getting yourself the cup of tea, cup of coffee, cup of gin. Then sit down, open the document and read some of it.
Okay, probably not gin. But if you ever “use” alcohol, I hope you’ll try this….
And if this isn’t for you, you’ll know it because this will sound stupid and only losers would try it. But sometimes the only way to get a stubborn donkey to move is to stop pushing it.
Show up and open the document and stare at it for a while. Sure it doesn’t look like much. But learn to sit with your words and do not judge them. It does simplify things.
You are hereby not required to try a bunch of productivity tips that will only mask your issue and complicate your process.
And, best of all, you have complete permission not to write a word.
If you struggle with productivity, make this your new intention immediately: shift your thinking to not writing new words but simply reading the old ones you’ve already written.
Do not judge or edit anything; just allow your brain to enjoy what you’ve written so far, i.e. be proud of what you’ve accomplished, i.e. make yourself feel good, i.e. experience what you were ditching your writing for right here.
You know, basically outsmart your inner rebel.
Oh, I always talked a big game about the “real” work of being diligent and willing to face fear. But something inside, some resentment about having to face hard stuff all the time and write it down, it needed resolving.
And comfort was elsewhere–in myriad other places (at least the quicker, easier, temporary kind).
Until I stopped pushing and saw my writing pain was legitimate and deserved to be felt and dealt with, all my muscling to a word count, or will-power to stay on task was short-lived. And it produced no meaningful work. Distraction was always a step away to grab me and send me back to the start, spiraling toward failure and more self-loathing.
So here’s your ticket to freedom: read your words as part of your process for freeing yourself and gain strength to face the dragon guarding your cave.
Eventually you will win just by showing up.
And each day you do, you’ll have less chance of forgetting that this is how life-changing books get written. Whatever it may seem to anyone else, feeling good about all you’re capturing is how you continue to write your way out. Day in, day out.
One healed piece at a time.
“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open up a vein.”
– Walter Wellesley Smith
For the Higher Purpose,