True confession: I will do almost anything to avoid writing.
Today is a typical day. Before sitting down to write this short post, I managed to procrastinate by achieving the following tasks, which suddenly pressed themselves upon me as undeniably urgent: hung up a load of wet laundry, paid a Fiverr invoice, inflated an exercise ball I ordered from Amazon three weeks ago, made a pot of tea, listened to a Marie Forleo podcast, ordered a desk lamp from Ikea (because if my writing desk were better lit, I would be more productive), made a note to buy a birthday gift for my mom, and contemplated washing the sofa cushion covers.
It was only through a strenuous effort that I finally opened a blank Word document and just started typing. Those sofa cushions covered in dog hair were really calling my name. In fact, it’s only by practicing almost superhuman powers of concentration that I’m able to keep typing now that I’ve thought of a chore that would be much easier than the act of pumping words out onto a page.
True fact: I love writing.
I love the way it enables me to discover thoughts I didn’t know I have. I appreciate the way it brings order to my scattered thinking and enables me to connect with others and collaborate with them.
But writing is hard. Wrestling cushion covers off two sofas, laundering them, and wrestling them back on sounds much, much less painful than trying to birth a new idea. Or rather, trying to convince myself that an idea I have is worth birthing.
When a baby is ready to exit the womb, the mother doesn’t have any choice but to push them out into the world. No matter how fearful the woman might feel, those contractions are going to come in tsunami-force waves. The child will be born, whether or not the mother has finished tying the bumper pads on the crib and finished the last chapter of What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
But with words, we have a choice. We can decide to hold back, to call the birthing process to a halt, whenever we feel we’re not ready. The voice of our inner critic is always eager to hold us up by telling us one of those familiar lies: you’re not smart enough, you’re not creative enough, you don’t have enough time.
In my coaching practice, I come across many clients who’ve bought into those distorted thoughts. They tell me they’ve always been a lousy writer, that English was their worst subject in school, that they can’t write because they’re an engineer or a computer programmer or a scientist or a Virgo.
Another true fact: everyone who writes battles with what I call “writing resistance,” no matter their inborn aptitude or professional background.
Telling ourselves we can’t write, finding excuse upon excuse, is just part of the process. Like mosquitoes during a canoe trip, those self-defeating thoughts will plague us every time we sit down to shape written communication. You just have to swat them away, or ignore them, and keep paddling.
Today, I couldn’t write because I had to wash the sofa cushions. Those nasty mosquito-thoughts also told me I had an overdue invoice to issue, emails to send, phone calls to make. Plus, they said, I was too rusty after two weeks of vacation. And anyway, who gives a hoot about what Dawn is thinking today?
When clients tell me they can’t write because of a lack of skill, the real cause is often a simple lack of confidence. It helps, I find, to recognize that even “expert” writers find it tough to conjure up enough self-belief to form their inner thoughts into visible language.
As in so many other domains, becoming a better writer is nine-tenths discipline and one-tenth skill. And the first and most important discipline is simply agreeing to let the creative process happen.
Whether you’re writing an email, a report, a grant application, or the next great Canadian novel, there are words in you waiting to be born onto the page. Take a deep breath, tell that inner critic just where they can go, and you’ll be surprised to discover how the writing just happens.
One of the joys of writing coaching is helping clients discover the personal writing process that will make them less anxious about authorship and more productive. Would you like a free 30-minute consult to help you refine your process? If so, let’s connect!
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