Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Michelle Styles: Curing my writing resistance (or attempting to)

One of the things about being a writer is that sometimes the words flow easier than others. It can be for a variety of reasons but I know I am in trouble when I keep finding excuses to do other things. There are often really good excuses for procrastinating. The trouble with procrastination is that the manuscript doesn’t get written if you are busy doing something else.
Over the past year, I have noticed my daily word count which used to be respectable has started becoming more and more pathetic. I didn’t have full blown writer’s block, but I definitely had resistance. So when a writer friend mentioned she was reading a book  Around the Writer’s Block by Roseanne Bane about the science of the brain and writer’s block, I knew it was something I had to read.
After all why write, when you can read about why you might not be writing?
 To my surprise, Bane has some very sound things to say about why a writer (any writer) might be avoiding writing. It has to do with the way your brain works. When you are under stress, your limbic system takes over. And even though you think you are in charge, you are really in panic mode. The big revelation for me was that I did not need to know why I had gone into panic mode, simply to acknowledge that I was and to refocus so that my cortex, the higher functioning part that allows me to write could take control. It was about recognising the pattern, rather than finding the source. She pointed out that acknowledging the fear is there is more important than examining precisely what the fear is.
She suggested a three part strategy – breaking your work down into process time, product time and self care as all three were important for writing. I was pleased to see with my daily exercise habit, I was doing good on the self care. But what was immediately clear — I had fallen down was scheduling my process time – ie free thinking time where my hands were doing something and my mind was allowed to think.  For a variety of reasons, I had stopped keeping a journal and had not done much needlework recently. I have started doing these things again and it is helping.  15 minutes of freewriting about whatever pops into my head first thing in the morning is great. Also instead of focusing on word count, I am focusing on the magic 15 minutes. For me this means working in 15 minute stretches where my focus needs to be on the work in progress. It is also the realisation that product time does include freethinking time, research, editing, revising and not just the raw word count.

It does take time to rewire your brain, particularly if it has been used to behaving a certain way. You need to keep doing the new habits so you can force out the old ones. I know this to be true from when I first started exercising seven years ago. You have to schedule and force habits until they become second nature.
In doing the magic 15 minutes when nothing is allowed to interrupt,  I have found that about the 7 minute mark, I have really have to refocus or I will find a reason to check my email, FB or something else. Until I had done this experiment for a few days, I had not really recognised that I did that.  But I can work for 15 min at a time and so I have started doing a series of 15 minute stretches. The net result is that my word count has gone up considerably  instead of stagnating and I am making significant progress on my latest Viking. 
Bane has a lot to say on rewards and finding out about your Saboteur. She also maintains a website and blog on engaging your creative brain which deals with some of the issues.
 I throw this out there in case someone else is suffering – not from writer’s block from resistance. I suspect the theory can apply to anything that you want to do well.
Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romances for Harlequin Historical in a wide variety of time periods. Her next Viking set historical Sent as the Viking’s Bride will be published in January 2019. She is also brilliant at finding new and unusual ways to procrastinate but is currently hard at work on her next novel. You read more about Michelle and her books at

1 comment:

Kate Walker said...

What an interesting post, Michelle. Thanks for this. I think it's what I need too. Definitely need some 'unblocking'. Good luck with making even more progress with the latest Viking.