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I think all of us writers can relate to this. When we’re in our element and something interrupts our flow, it takes time to regain that momentum. Plus, there’s the possibility of losing that idea or at least the state of mind that incubated the idea.
But when you’re stuck, it’s the opposite, isn’t it? You welcome ANY distraction: A knock on the door, a notification popping up on your phone, your spouse offering you lunch.
You crave relief from that uncomfortable state of not knowing what to write next.
When distractions don’t come our way, we’ll conveniently supply our own. We’ll get a snack, check our bank account, pay the power bill.
Right now, I’m sure you’re nodding your head in agreement. We’ve all been there. And we all know procrastination is the killer of dreams.
So why do we keep doing it?
We have to understand where the procrastination is coming from.
Yes, there’s an element of laziness involved for sure. Writing takes a lot of mental energy. As Stephen King put its so eloquently in On Writing (a must-read for any writer), “It’s writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner.”
But beyond that is the layer of uncertainty. The voices in your head telling you this is stupid, terrible, unoriginal, nobody will care, you have nothing useful to say, etc. etc.
Procrastination may shut off the voices temporarily, but it never actually makes them go away.
That’s why you carry around this vague sense of discomfort and guilt for not tackling your goals.
In fact, procrastination actually feeds these doubt-monsters in our heads. Each time we cave into the distractions, we give the voices a chance to reassert themselves: “See. You’re not a real writer. I told you so.”
That’s why a good skydiving instructor just pushes you out of the plane (after fastening you to a parachute, of course). They know if they give you time to think about it, the fear will kick in. You either won’t do it or you’ll undergo a crippling bout of anxiety.
So when it comes to writing, the easiest way to overcome those voices is to just dive in.
I discovered this by accident.
One day, I had only carved out an hour in my schedule as designated writing time. But fueled by a good playlist, I fell into The Zone (mecca for writers). Suddenly the words were pouring out of me faster than I could type them. The hours flew by. I was hungry and thirsty and needed to pee, but I didn’t want to leave The Zone for even one second.
Yes, the negative voices still asserted themselves, but as I wrote through them, they began to fade away.
So the next time you’re struggling, remember this: You CAN write through the uncertainty. When you do, it’s such an amazing rush that you don’t want to go back to the old way of doing things: caving into distractions and settling for mediocrity.
The more you write, the less persuasive your self-criticism will be.
What makes self-doubt sting is that it usually contains some truth. Even if you’re a seasoned writer, the writing you produce early in your session will probably suck.
But as you enter The Zone, you’ll drill deeper and go past those surface-level observations that distinguish exceptional writing from amateurish writing.
The ability to achieve depth in your writing isn’t something that comes from more education or super-smart writer genes.
It comes from inside us–hence the term “depth”–and it’s cultivated through uninterrupted moments of intense focus. Not only do you feel good about the finished product, but the process itself is exciting because you’re making new discoveries along the way.
The Zone is not some mystical place.
It’s something WE generate. Everyone’s different, but here’s my formula:
- YouTube autoplay. I find Brainwave Entrainment most conducive to focus but sometimes a funky house/disco beat with minimal lyrics can get me in the right mindset.
- Using Freedom to block distracting websites and prevent me from performing random Google searches. Which leads me to my next point:
- Make your research and writing session separate. Yes, research can be necessary for your writing, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll eventually find yourself looking at Top 10 Energy Bars and wondering how you ever got there. Plus, even if you’re disciplined about it, interrupting your writing to conduct research will pull you out of The Zone.
- Only periodically checking my email (and never during writing sessions). Checking email is my #1 writing enemy. Even when I have legit reasons for checking it, it quickly gets out-of-hand. Luckily, using Inbox When Ready has allowed me to limit my glimpses to 5 times day. If I go over 5, I’m forced to wait 15 seconds before I can see my emails. At first this was annoying, but I realized it’s precisely what a compulsive email-checker like me needs!
- Having minimal prep foods like Think Thin bars close by when moments of hunger arise. My favorite flavors are lemon and cookies-in-cream 🙂
As I said, this is my formula. What works for me might not work for you. So develop your own Zone Recipe and display it in a clear spot!
Finally, you need to establish clear boundaries with others.
Luckily, my boyfriend is also a writer so he understands the importance of letting me have my space (and vice versa). But if your loved ones are non-writers (like Wendy), you should let them know–in a loving but firm way–the protocols to follow during Zone Time.
Applying these principles to bigger tasks
So far I’ve mostly focused on the micro (honoring your writing sessions), but these concepts apply to the macro as well.
If you have a big project—writing a novel or screenplay, starting a blog, writing an e-book for your business—hesitation and procrastination are even more destructive.
That’s because the heavier the object, the more momentum that’s required to lift it off the ground and keep it in motion. Every step of the way, internal and external forces will interfere.
Internal forces would be the aforementioned uncertainty (“is this idea worth pursuing?”). External would be changes at work, family crises, and anything that interrupts your usual routine.
While you do want to have some sort of plan in place, if you spend years reading how-to books and taking courses, you’ll never get started.
As you’ve probably already noticed, the more information you seek out, the more you notice contradictions. Expert A says establish a strong Facebook presence, Expert B says Facebook is useless. Then you’re back to square one, more confused than ever.
So pick a path that resonates with you and stick with it.
Yes, things will change. You’ll change.
Maybe two years ago you were jazzed about writing a novel and now that you’ve done it, you found the whole process miserable.
But that’s okay. You’ll have the satisfaction of finishing what you started.
This will give you more confidence going into your next big project, knowing that you can count on yourself to follow through.
Plus, that novel (or screenplay) will be a stepping stone to other opportunities.
Whether employment or securing clients is your goal, this project will give you leverage. It’ll show that you’re capable of making long-term commitments.
Plus, you’ll learn new skills along the way.
So you have nothing to lose. Go dive into your writing right now. Give yourself the time and space to let the ideas flow.
You’ll be glad you did.
What do you do when you get stuck? What’s your Zone Formula?