Stephen Whitmore

Overcoming the Resistance to Write

2016-11-18 19:10:34

They say that in order to become a writer you need to write a great deal of words. Not only that, but that you must write regularly. Not only THAT, but that you must throw out the vast majority of what pours forth from your trembling fingertips.

Yet, despite this sound advice, just the idea of writing is enough to freeze me in my tracks. Why is that?

Don’t hide behind pillars

As a writer, I have a tendency to hide behind pillars.

Pillars? Pillars are the excuses we hide behind. Oh, I don’t have a writing mode plugin for emacs, so I can’t really write. Oh, I’m not using a typewriter, so I can’t really write. Oh, but this typewriter is electric. Mine needs to be mechanical for me to write. Oh, this paper is too cheap for me to write on. Oh, I can’t write without my fancy fountain pen with the same brand of ink that Hemingway used. Oh, this isn’t my favourite notebook, so I can’t write now either. Oh, the font choices available in this writing program are atrocious. Do you really expect me to look at them while trying to output my masterpiece?

The ego is remarkably capable at producing excuses why we can’t do something. We produce external obstacles in the physical world to avoid facing our true obstacles, all of which of course exist solely in our inner world. Our ego is too precious and fragile for this though, and must resort to underhanded tricks to keep the blame off of us.

A wise book once told me that the key to succeeding at a thing is not preparation, but in simply doing the thing: “In taking action we become ready”.

When you feel the urge to avoid writing come up, and those external excuses present themselves, don’t panic! Don’t close the lid of the laptop or put down your cheap ballpoint pen and crumpled notepad paper. Just sit there. Sit with those feelings, and guide your mind to look at the ego itself. Wait, you’ll think, I’m not the one with an aversion to writing, it’s this ego fellow. “Just look at him! Spinning out excuse after excuse in an effort to prevent herself from facing the possibility that I might not actually be good at writing. That’s okay, tender little ego. There there. I’m a big girl, and I don’t expect everything I wrote to be Hemingwayian. I just want to put words down on a page and see what happens. Surely you can agree to that?”

The present moment is your friend

Just put down words on a page and see what happens. There’s another gem of wisdom hiding in here too: being present. So many things that prevent me from writing come from the future or the past. I’m either afraid that what I write won’t be any good, or that my past writing or failures in writing are indicative somehow of who I fundamentally am. These are illusory. Your ego is trying to pull the wool over your eyes again.

The accuracy of our future projections are remarkably poor. We scarcely know what things will look like by the time we’ve crossed the street. Put aside the fears of the future: they’re based in fantasy. Just accept that you truly don’t know how the future is going to pan out.

How about the past? My favourite aspect of people is the way they are always in motion. So is our identity: it’s constantly in flux, every moment changing and growing in a multitude of ways. Did you fail to write that space opera novel in high school? That’s a shame. But you aren’t in high school any more – and likely haven’t been for quite some time – and you aren’t the same person who tried to write that story.

Build skills naturally

That’s not to say that there aren’t skills to be learned: if you couldn’t build a rocket in high school it’s unlikely you’ll suddenly be able to today. Learning to write long form stories takes time, and there are skills to be developed. Or so I’ve heard. I’m not there yet either, so I guess we’ll both have to take that on faith. But even without the skills in hand, you can build them progressively. Write a short story. Heck, write a paragraph. Then built on it. Don’t fret about what it is or what it will become. Just write. Stick with the present moment and let the words come out without judgment. Repeat. Repeat further. It will come to you with time.


These are my words of wisdom to you, dear reader. I offer them without hesitation, for I used these them just now to write this!

What pearls of wisdom have you heard about writing? What gems have you garnered from your own experiences? Send me an email or a tweet. Thanks for reading!