Although I’ve been working with writers for many years, exploring with them and within myself, all the misconceptions and anxieties that keep us from writing, I still do not understand fully—as if we ever understand anything fully—why it is so easy for most of us to slip stealthily away from our writing. I’ve worked with writers who have published several books, then unexpectedly find that they can’t begin the newest project. They feel stuck, and not only do they have no idea why, they are amazed that, after years of writing on a regular basis, they suddenly cannot get themselves to the page. “Could I have suddenly been afflicted by laziness?” a client once asked me. She was a full professor at a major university, popular with students, on countless dissertation, departmental and tenure committees, involved with her extended family and friends, with never a free moment, and yet she asked me, in all sincerity, if I thought she had become lazy.
Other writers who are experiencing difficulty castigate themselves for lacking discipline. These writers may exercise daily, sustain rich professional lives, with all the duties and obligations these lives entail, yet because they are unable to write, claim laxness and negligence in the writing realm.
“Look,” I want to reprimand these writers, “just look at yourself and your life. How can think of applying the word ‘lazy’ to yourself? How in the world can you think you lack discipline?”
“Well, I must be lazy or I’d be writing the book I have a contract for,” a writer might reply. Another might say, “If I were disciplined, I’d find time to write. Some of the writers I’ve worked with have been so insistent on claiming themselves lazy, that I’ve had to ban the word from my office.
In the future, I’ll explore some of the many reasons writers find it difficult to write. Today, however, I want to talk about a semi-behavioral response to feeling stuck: Whether we are new to writing or veterans with several books behind us, each and every day, sitting down to write involves a choice. For some of us, it is a conscious choice. For others, it might be made below their radar. But whether we are aware of it or not, each iteration of writing involves choosing to write.
While a great deal of our behavior may be conditioned or instinctive, and while establishing a consistent writing practice moves us toward a conditioned relationship with writing–in other words, makes it more likely that we will write—putting those first words to the page each day never takes place automatically. Writing requires us to be proactive; it asks that we either give ourselves permission to write or opt to write over surfing the Internet, answering email or scrubbing the kitchen sink.
Some days I am only marginally aware of a voice in my head that says, “I’m going to write now.” Other days, days when I feel sluggish or discouraged, I remind myself that I want to write, that I always feel better once I’ve written, that simply making the choice to write will move me toward an improved state of mind.
Once we realized that writing will never be automatic, that it will always involve a choice on our part, we are less likely to impugn ourselves as lazy and undisciplined. We may well feel freer to make the choice, and once we feel freer, it becomes that much easier to choose to write.