Six sticking points for writers and how to fix them

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You may hate being predictable but did you know there are typical sticking points for writers? And my guess is that you’re facing more than one of them…

I’ve spent years trying to get my financial books to my bookkeeper earlier than January 31. Mostly, I haven’t succeeded. Last week, however, I managed to get the first two quarters to him without a coronary event on my part. As my friend Eve said, “I think I hear a big brass band sounding right now.”

There is no single job I hate more than working on my bookkeeping. I delay and prevaricate and procrastinate about it. Over the years I’ve tried a host of tricks and techniques to get myself to do it sooner. Usually, I fail.

What undoes me? This time it was an almost-60-minute fight with my cellphone company, Rogers. I needed to collect my bills and their website wouldn’t let me. I called them and had to deal with three operators — over the course of an hour — before the last guy finally told me the company was dealing with a “known bug” and they would have to email me the bills. (They still haven’t, by the way.)

The good news? I realized that tracking down invoices is a sticking point for me. And I’m going to separate it from getting my books to my bookkeeper.

This is what progress looks like.

Writers, too, face sticking points in their work. Here are six, along with my suggestions on how to knock them down:

Sticking point #1: You have anxiety about starting

Just about everyone is afraid to start something new. But if you don’t start you’ll never know what you could have done. Do you really want to go through life with a coda of coulda, woulda, shoulda running through your brain? Of course it’s safer never to try. But it’s smarter to tell yourself you’re going to start and you’ll judge later how it’s worked out. Runners do this all the time: On days they don’t feel like training they lace up their shoes and promise to run for only 10 minutes. Funnily enough, most of the time they complete their full training session. Play a mind game like this one to help you get started.

Sticking point #2: You’re too easily distracted

We live in an age of constant distraction. Email, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. We could all spend our entire working day browsing social media and never getting a damn thing done. Our brains are wired for these distractions and even convince ourselves that we’re accomplishing meaningful work. Don’t suck yourself in! Think of it like dieting. If you have a big slab of chocolate cake in the house you have to use willpower to force yourself not to eat it. Isn’t it easier not to have the cake in the house in the first place? Turn off your email and Facebook while you’re writing. Even if you can only do this for an hour, do it for that hour. It’s worth it.

Sticking point #3: You dislike confusion

Writing inevitably leads to moments of confusion — you don’t know the point you want to make or you don’t know how you’re going to prove it. Understand that this is simply part of the process. It doesn’t mean you’re stupid or a bad writer. Just as exercise means sweating and cooking means dirtying pots and breaking eggs, writing leads to moments of confusion. But you’re a smart person. You can work your way through them. Just expect these moments and remind yourself how you’ve worked through them in the past. Give yourself a pep talk, using the third person.

Sticking point #4: You don’t have enough time to do the work

There’s no denying it: writing takes time. Anything worthwhile does. Did you expect the writing to happen magically? Instead of engaging in magical thinking, make a realistic plan. The best thing to do is to write your crappy first draft as quickly as possible and then spend double that amount of time editing it. Yes, editing should take at least twice as long as writing Crunched by time? Then, stop doing something else to create some room in your schedule. Suggestions: Facebook, TV, surfing the Internet, vacuuming…

Sticking point #5: You want your work to be perfect

This is a trick but many of us still fall for it. We want our work to be flawless. Here’s where you must ask yourself the following: What in the world is perfect? Go to a forest or the beach. Is every tree or rock perfect? Aren’t some of them a bit lopsided or the teeniest bit homely? Perfection is an unrealistic goal. Instead, vow to pursue the more realistic goal of making your work better. Can you live with that? If so, spend more time self-editing and consider hiring yourself an editor. And if you can’t afford that then find a trusted friend who can review your work before you release it.

Sticking point #6: You’re afraid of being judged

Who isn’t afraid of being judged? We all get nervous before we go public with something we’ve worked on. Know that this will be the last sticking point you’ll have to deal with and decide that you’re going to do it anyway.

In summary

When you experience any of these emotions, understand that what you need to do is call upon your inner engineer to analyze them. Sticking points don’t clear away by themselves. Nor do they respond to emotional entreaties.

They need a calm, neutral and objective study. Figure out what the sticking point is, and then carry on. Keep trying. Keep working. Keep fighting.

You will do better next time. I know. I already have a plan for my bookkeeper for December.

What are your strategies for unsticking yourself? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Sept. 30/15 will be put in a draw for a copy of  Wildmind: Living the Writer’s Life, by Natalie Goldberg. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “more from my site” links, below.