When someone signs up for the Writer’s Circle, and doesn’t participate, I am always fascinated to know why. I don’t assume that the person is lazy or just not writing. And sometimes there are real reasons, like a sudden death in the family or an unexpected deadline at work.
But more often than not, when someone isn’t writing, it’s resistance. Resistance means avoiding the very thing you know you most want to do. In fact, the bigger the calling, the more resistance.
And if you’re the one in resistance, it can be tricky to spot. The stories we tell ourselves become so familiar, we take them as givens.
Garden variety resistance
Stories like “being too busy”, for instance, are common. It’s our best socially acceptable excuse, after all! These are the more obvious cases, where the writer says they want to write, but fails to do so, saying they are too busy.
It’s resistance, plain and simple.
Sure. It might ALSO be true that they are too busy. But WHY are they too busy? What self-created realities are they living in that make them too busy to write?
Resistance leads us to create overflowing lives with impossible tasks and deadlines, because if we CAN’T write, we don’t have to write. Saved!
We always have a choice
The thing is, though, we make the choices that create our lives.
Sure, we might have to hold down day jobs. But we don’t have to be perfectionists about Every Single Bit of work that we do, or work Every Single Available Hour to successfully accomplish our jobs. Perfectionism keeps us working on other projects far longer than necessary. Being busy in this way is the ultimate form of procrastination.
The reality is that it is almost always possible to write for just a few minutes a day, no matter how busy you are. Usually if you can’t find a few minutes, it’s because you’re allowing perfectionism and resistance to get in the way, one way or the other. Even taking on too much work is a form of perfectionism, because when we can’t write, we don’t have to, and we don’t have to see ourselves fail to reach our own impossibly high standards.
Insidious types of resistance
The more insidious types of resistance are new projects that suddenly demand our attention, like just when we’ve finally committed to writing a novel, we decide we have to start a thirty-day workout program, get another degree, start a new business, clear our clutter, move, or fix our finances.
Why do we do this?
On the surface, it might look like we’re mastering self-improvement in all areas of our lives, all at once. It feels so good to finally be committing to writing that we overcommit to trying to improve everything in our lives. Or it might look like we’ve gotten clear that these other projects are more important to do first.
It looks noble. Or smart, to get your priorities in order.
But underneath, it’s self-sabotage.
What we’re really doing is simply avoiding the writing. We might not be willing or able to admit it to ourselves at the time, but raw naked terror is running the show. Better to build one habit or make one major change at a time, ideally in small manageable pieces.
There’s nothing like signing up for something like the Writer’s Circle or committing to doing the work, and then seeing yourself run fleeing in the other direction (or just plain old losing interest) to clue you in to the fact that you are secretly TERRIFIED of facing the page.
Not that there’s anything wrong with being scared.
In fact, it’s ENTIRELY normal. If you aren’t scared, you might even be doing it wrong.
You might be surprised about what I really think when you aren’t writing
But here’s the thing. If you tell me you want to write and the instantly do the opposite, you might be surprised (or not, if you know me at all!) to know that I DON’T think:
- He’s being lazy.
- She isn’t serious about being a writer.
- He doesn’t have what it takes.
Far from it.
In fact, what goes through my brain is:
- Oh, poor thing, she must be terrified.
- I wonder if he knows he’s running away.
- I hope she will reach out for help instead of hiding.
- I wonder if he knows how defended he is right now.
- I wonder what she’s doing instead of writing and how I can help her troubleshoot it.
What I really see hidden in the way writers act out after they’ve committed to writing but don't do it – is a cry for help.
The bigger the badder
And the larger the way the resistance plays out, the more terror I see:
- Taking on new responsibilities at work or for the kids' schools? Scared.
- Going out drinking every night instead of writing? Panicky.
- Suddenly deciding to start a new business venture or get a fine arts degree? Petrified.
All these kinds of choices – whether they are sudden new choices or chronic patterns – they are resistance, and show us how scared we truly are.
Is this grounds for self-flagellation?
Far from it.
It’s powerful information.
When you know you are not lazy or weak willed but scared, then you know how to deal with it.
The antidote for fear
The antidote for fear is courage.
So when I see you not writing, my first response is compassion, followed by tons of support and brainstorming to help you get going again. It’s as simple as that.