Writing Through The Fear

Today was the annual Faculty Writing Retreat at Queen’s University’s Donald Gordon Centre , where we get to set aside a large block of time for writing. I planned to work on a technical book I’ve been thinking about for a long time, but the opening talk diverted me from that idea to write this blog post. It was all about making more time for writing, any kind of writing, and the most engaging part of the talk was about overcoming a very common cause of procrastination: fear and emotional pain.

Adrian Kelly of University Research Services is a writer of both technical prose and fiction, who loves talking to people about writing. What follows is my memory of what I got out of the talk, which might not be exactly the same as what he meant.
I thought the highlight of his talk would be about the process of establishing a daily writing habit, the title as advertised, and that indeed took much of the time, but the best part of the session was at the end. It doesn’t matter if you sit down to write, if fear and other negative emotions stops you in your tracks.
What he advised was a visualization exercise. Take a moment to centre yourself and recognize what you are feeling. If it is emotional pain of any sort, visualize it as a big black cloud in front of you, and mentally shout at it “Bring it on!” Dive into the cloud, or run at it, whatever image works best for you, and when you are inside mentally shout “I love pain!” When you come out the other side, and the black cloud is behind you, shout “Pain sets me free!
Adrian got this technique from a psychiatrist who works exclusively with writers, creatives, and scholars. When he tried to analyze why it might work, the man would say “It’s a tool. It doesn’t matter how it works; just use the f***ing tool.” That shut down my inner skeptic that kept thinking things like “How can I say such a ridiculous thing?” The idea felt energizing me, so I plan to try it for the next thirty days, the period Adrian advised us to push hard to establish a habit.
The early part of the talk was about a process for spending time actually writing while the tool helps you get started with any particular session.
  • Get up 15 minutes earlier than usual, go to a place you’ll be comfortable, and write about whatever is on your mind with pen in a journal. It doesn’t matter if you’re like me and can’t read your own writing an hour later; it’s more important to keep away from the keyboard where your internal editor keeps wanting to hit the backspace key. It also doesn’t matter what you write about: technical prose, fiction, personal thoughts, anything that is on your mind.
  • After a few days, increase to 20 minutes, then to 25. Keep this up for 30 days.
  • At that point schedule a 25-minute slot later in the day for writing on your current project – fiction, research paper, whatever. This time it can be on the computer if that’s the best way for you to write. Set a timer (he recommends a physical one instead of a telephone alarm, but I’m planning on using my phone, in Do Not Disturb mode, and face down so I’m less tempted to check for texts and social media posts). Use the f’ng tool to get started. Keep this up for 30 days.
  • At some point within that 30 days, add another session. After the first 25 minutes get up and do something else for 3-5 minutes – make coffee, go for a short walk, anything that gets you away from wherever you were writing. Then come back, set another timer, and write for another 25.
  • Over the last 30 days of the 90, work up to at least three sessions later in the day; that plus 25 minutes at the start of the day gives you 100 minutes of writing that you may not have had before.
He’s not fanatic about writing every single day but recommends at least five. He’s also not fanatic about four 25-minute sessions; he knows people who have written books on 25 minutes per day. Lots of internet discussions I’ve seen warn that there’s no one writing process that works for everyone, but I’m going to try this one and hope it works for me.

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