Resolve to stop negotiating with yourself about writing

Is guilt about writing (or, more accurately, not writing) driving you crazy? I have a simple solution: stop negotiating with yourself….

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, but if the changing of the calendar inspires you to make positive changes in your life, well, I’m all in favour of that. And if you’re writing, I have a suggestion for a change you might want to consider.

But, first, let me ask you a question. Do you ever make any of the following comments to yourself?

  • “I’ll do some writing right after breakfast when I’ve had the chance to wake up more fully.”
  • “I’ll get started on that report as soon as I’ve checked my email and made sure there aren’t any “bombs” waiting to go off and spoil my day.”
  • “I’ll begin my writing as soon as I’ve finished the afternoon meeting with my boss and my mind is free to concentrate.”
  • “I’ll write as soon as I can get the kids into bed.”

When I was a student, decades ago, I remember I used to resolve to start my studying or my paper-writing as soon as the clock hit the hour. “I’ll begin at 2 pm,” I’d tell myself, taking the time to get myself a drink or a snack first. Guess what inevitably happened? The next time I looked at the clock it would be 2:07 pm and I’d postpone again, until 3 pm. (What on earth was my attraction to the round hour?) Entire days could disappear this way!

Many of my clients engage in similar behaviour, delaying and postponing and procrastinating about writing. Even though some new research purports that negotiating with yourself is a good idea, I think it’s a bad idea for writers. Here are five reasons why:

  1. There will ALWAYS be reasons excuses. I wrote my first book when my triplets were teenagers. If I had looked at my schedule realistically, I would certainly have told myself that I didn’t have nearly enough time for this book-writing nonsense. If you allow yourself to negotiate with yourself about the act of writing, you’ll quickly conclude that you just don’t have the bandwidth for it. (Instead, it’s better to learn that we can all make time for the tasks that are important to us.)
  2. Negotiation makes you focus on problems rather than solutions. As you work to convince yourself to write, the argument in your head will likely go something like this:
    1. I need to write this morning…
    2. I don’t have any good ideas right now….
    3. My writing is probably going to be really bad….
    4. I’m going to feel like a fool when my boss/readers see this…
    5. I think it would be better if I didn’t write right now….
  3. You will build a self-image of being unreliable and undependable. Many of my clients feel bad about themselves because they can’t find the time to write. This feeling is a natural outgrowth of big expectations (i.e., writing a book or a thesis or even maintaining a weekly blog) and your inability to live up to them. If you tell yourself you’re going to write every day and then you fail to achieve that goal, you’re going to feel inadequate. No one wants to feel inadequate so, as quickly as possible, you’re likely to try to put the idea of writing out of your mind.
  4. Negotiation leads to guilt. If you allow the “threat” of having to write to hang over your head all day, you’re going to feel guilty about not writing. Who wants to do that? Guilt is not a rational feeling, and it’s often not a helpful one, either. Also, if you equate writing with guilt, then that’s only going to make writing seem even more unattractive to you. (It’s a far better strategy to write for a small amount of time every day and banish those feelings of guilt entirely.)
  5. You won’t be building a habit. If you try to negotiate yourself into writing, you’re going to be using willpower or self-motivation to get yourself to work. But willpower goes only so far (and it always runs out as the day wears on)  and even the best self-motivation in the world won’t get words on the page. What you need is a habit.

Instead of becoming a slick salesperson to yourself, have a look at your life and see where else you’ve succeeded. Do you:

  • Do dishes every day?
  • Make your bed every morning?
  • Brush your teeth every night?
  • Get exercise every day?

What has allowed you to accomplish these tasks? I guess you’ve turned them into habits. So, make writing a habit, too. Set a time, a place and a goal and do it, at least five days a week. Start with a really small goal so that that habit is easy to maintain. And get your writing done early in the day before you have time to start negotiating with yourself.

If you follow this plan, 2018 could be the year you turn yourself into a writer.

Are you able to ignore your guilt about not writing more? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below. And congratulations to LJ Anderson, the winner of this month’s book prize, Becoming An Academic Writer by Patricia Goodson for a Dec. 5/17 comment on my blog. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Jan. 31/18 will be put in a draw for a copy of Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.

Posted January 2nd, 2018 in Power Writing

  • Taran

    On target… for me… right now. Thanks (not only for this particular post–but for all of your almost-always helpful postings).

  • Jean Scoon

    Your advice to make a habit of writing first thing in the morning rings true for me and is echoed by others who write about writing (Eric Maisel, Louise DeSalvo). You mention that it means you don’t have to spend time and energy negotiating about doing it later–kind of funny and so true. I find that it also feels great the rest of the day if I write first thing. It seems to give me a shot of energy that lasts all day. This applies whether or not I feel I’ve done good writing that morning. It’s just the showing up to scribble every day that makes all the difference. Thanks!

    • Yes, the trick of doing things first in the morning — without even thinking about them — works for many people. I just find I run out of first morning. If I had my way, I’d be able to exercise, meditate, write and read all before 8 am!! (That NEVER happens, by the way!)

  • Lynne Bryant

    Thank you, Daphne. This is a great article and it really hits home. I always use the “I’ll do the writing right after: I get my real job done or I take care of taking care of somebody else, etc.” Your reminder that you become undependable is a good motivator for me and I really like the idea of writing in the morning … just like making the bed. =)

    • Yes, turn it into a habit. We maintain habits. That’s what you want to do for your writing.

  • Jagadish Kumar

    Thanks a lot for giving us a non negotiable but actionable plan to turn ourselves into writers this year. We wish you a delightful 2018. Thanks again, dear Daphne.