If You Can’t Sit Down to Write, Get Started, Keep Writing, or Complete a Writing Project,
you are most likely struggling with what I’m now calling writing inhibition. This simply means that at some point during your writing process, something gets in the way and inhibits your moving onto the next phase. And while what “gets in the way” is in some sense quite individual, it is not most of the obstacles my clients point to when we begin discussing their writing. What actually keeps you from writing is not, for example, the exercise regimen you resolved to follow on New Year’s Day, or the dirty refrigerator calling out to you, or your perennial bed that needs weeding—not even your aged mother who demands attention. And it’s not the bills that need to be paid, the emails you should answer, the phone calls you should return.
Any and all of the above time gobblers can seem to get in the way of your writing. A dirty refrigerator can feel urgent.
Your 98-year-old mother’s needs may seem overpowering. Unanswered emails can cry out for answers. But if you step back for a moment, you’ll understand that these are actually convincing excuses to keep you away from your writing. Any chore that feels imperative, can wait fifteen minutes or a half-hour. Most can be delayed even for an hour or two. What makes your mother, your dirty refrigerator, your emails feel so important has more to do with your relationship with writing than to the tasks that keep calling you away from your computer or the blank page. What makes any of these tasks seem urgent is actually the degree of anxiety you feel about engaging with your writing, not the task itself. Not all writers are aware of just how anxious they feel when it comes to their writing.
While some of us know that sitting down to write brings on a wave of discomfort, others have pushed their anxiety so far down, they are not aware of it. In fact, the more anxious they feel, the more urgent other tasks and activities seem. Being pulled toward the refrigerator or the telephone feels a lot better than being pushed away from your writing. And, once your refrigerator is sparkling, or your bills all paid, you can commend yourself for a job well done—usually not the case with our writing, which is a process rather than a delineated task.
For the moment, perhaps this is all you need to know: whatever you may be telling yourself, your friends and family about why you’re not writing, it’s probably not true. What’s keeping you away from your novel, your short story, your essay is the anxiety, conscious or not, that writing provokes in you. Just what your particular anxiety may be, and how you can best deal with it, is, of course, no simple matter. In future posts, we’ll explore this anxiety in general and your personal brand of anxiety in particular. And along the way, we’ll uncover strategies for tempering it.