There’s an exercise I do with clients that I got from Tsultrim Allione, author of Feeding Your Demons. The exercise is more or less a guided meditation that encourages people to give characteristics to their saboteur (demon). The point is to give form to your saboteur—to determine its shape, smell, size, color, and even to name it.

Over years of doing this with writers, there’s been an interesting commonality: Oftentimes the saboteur haunting writers is sticky. I’ve seen saboteurs manifest in all sorts of ways—as humans, animals, beasts. But yes, they are often sticky.

It seems obvious when you lay it out in writing that the sticky has everything to do with being stuck. But as is often the case, experiences with clients (and my own recent stuckness) made this connection extra clear this month. December is already a month of excuses not to write. It’s the holidays; family is in town; it’s stressful; people go insane! Writers rationally conclude that everything will change in January. Writing more is a great new year’s resolution, after all.

But back to the sticky stuckness. What is this stickiness all about? Any writer who’s ever been stuck can relate. Your thoughts are as slow as molasses. Writing feels like a thing you should be doing, and at the end of the day it’s always the one thing you haven’t done. One of my clients this week described her stuckness as a fur ball—and it was certainly threatening to be a sticky mess she’d have to deal with if she dared to cough it up. I had another client a few years back whose sticky demon was downright scary, something straight out of The Ring. And this saboteur was doing a very effective job of keeping her from writing her memoir. Stickiness doesn’t just slow us down. It makes things unclear and messy. The very thought of dealing with it is hard work. Who wants to slog through a sticky mess? No one. Better to avoid it altogether. Better to save the writing for later when you have the energy to deal with the fall out, to clean it all up.

What I’ve realized with stickiness is that structures don’t work when you’re in this place. This presents a challenge for me because I’m the queen of structures. Get me on the phone and I can count off twenty structures to keep you writing in under fifteen minutes. But no amount of creativity or accountability—or even threatening—will make a writer who’s deep in the sticky stuckness start writing.

When you’re in the sticky stuckness you’re not just stuck, you’re also experiencing resistance. It’s not about having other things to do; that’s always going to be the case. You sit with the knowledge that you should be writing, but you can’t figure out why you’re not making time to write. This is worse than being unconscious. It’s being in denial—making all sorts of good excuses to make you feel better about what you’re not doing. Right now is just not a good time. You’ll come back to it when you have more time, more energy, when you’re healthier, when your family life isn’t so demanding, when it’s not the holidays. You can see this is a slippery slope. When will you make time to write? Once you get a different job? Once your kids go off to college? Once you’re divorced? Once you’re dead? I know, I know, this is a harsh way to put it, but for some of you it really is this dire—and you know it.

Do you have a project you want to write and you’re just not doing it? Are you finished with a manuscript that’s sitting in a drawer somewhere? Are you stuck midway through your book and failing to meet self-imposed deadlines?

There are consequences to being a person who answers yes to any of these questions. The primary consequence is heaviness. Yes, heaviness. Unfinished projects weigh on those who know their projects are destined for something bigger. Your unfinished writing lives in the recesses of your mind and weighs on your conscience. As much as you might think that there’s always going to be a better time, the truth is that there is no better time than now. Right now, smack dab in the middle of the holidays. If you can figure out a way to make time to write during the holidays, then you will always find time during the rest of the year. Right now is the worst time, unquestionably, so why not set the baseline now?

I challenge anyone who’s struggling to start, to finish, to complete, or to make a deadline to name that this is true. Do it here in the comments section and see what happens. The only truly effective strategy I know is to voice out loud to yourself and others that you are making a commitment. Put it in writing and make it happen.

And now I will tell you all about my own struggle with this issue. I was supposed to write a free report for my readers—and I’d been sitting on it for months. I have a coach holding me accountable for this, and after weeks of showing up without having completed this assignment, she told me I was overthinking it.  I was making more of it than I needed to. I’d had it on the top of my to-do list for weeks, and it was getting heavier with each passing day. I became the client I coach every day. It was eye-opening, frustrating, and also gave me some insight into the psychology of procrastination. I was in the sticky stuckness and it was uncomfortable. I thought about that damn report every single day. In the end, it took me about four hours to complete. Not a lot of hours for all the struggle and mental energy it consumed. So think about it. If you’re in the sticky stuckness, I get it. But you can get out. Make a commitment to yourself that stuck will not be your permanent state of being where your writing is concerned. It’s way way better on the other side, and once you overcome the sticky stuckness once, you’ll be better armed to deal with it when it shows up, as it inevitably will, in the future

Note: You can (or will) get a copy of that free report by the way. If you’re not on my mailing list, sign up (NEWSLETTER sign-up is in the right-hand margin) and you’ll get a link to the download. If you are on my newsletter, I’m sending it to you this week as a Christmas gift.

 

Happy holidays!

Until next month.
Brooke

12 Comments

  1. I have a deadline to rewrite three chapters by Xmas….I think I can do it by Dec.28…not too bad?

  2. Yes, Brooke, this is so true! As a writing teacher, coach, and also in my own writing, I see this all the time, and you express it with such clarity, and grace. That said, I can’t help think of the Ecclesiastes passage in the bible, which begins with the line: “To every thing there is a season, a time to every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, a time to die . . . .” And it goes on talking about a time to plant, pluck, kill, heal, laugh mourn, dance, gather stones, cast them away, speak, remain silent, etc. It does not say that every season is for writing, and I don’t think this is a tricky way to justify my own decision to take time away from my chapter. Still, I’m glad you raise the point, and it helps hearing about your resistance. I think it’s important for writers to constantly check in, to ask themselves whether they are honoring their seasons or dwelling in their “sticky stuckness.”

    • Indeed. And thanks for pointing out the nuance, Bella. There is no question that there are times when we are genuinely overwhelmed, or when there is too much pressure to write. We have to honor what’s true and listen to our inner voice of wisdom. This is also a bit of a learning curve, too. For some writers it can be a struggle to differentiate between really needing a break and fighting with saboteurs. Once we get honest with ourselves, though, we generally know the difference. Thanks for your input!

  3. I have a deadline to complete an article by Monday or Tuesday and a rough draft of chapter 4 by Sunday evening. I aim to get it done!

  4. Oh, this one hits home! I’m totally carrying that heaviness right now, and have even misidentified it as “I really need to be going to the gym” rather than “I really need to sit down and write this piece.” Deep & sneaky resistance, here!

    I’ve got a story due for a friend’s zine, will have that done by Monday, and will have another chapter done by next weekend. Cheers to getting unstuck, and many thanks for sharing your own struggle, Brooke. Looking forward to the report!

  5. What a great post! In October I set the goal of finishing my manuscript revisions and re-writing my query letter after an agent told me that the letter didn’t reflect the voice in my first chapter. Last week I finished my revisions and put the final polish on my revised query letter. From now until January 3, I’m going to make a list of agents I’ll query right after the new year. I have found that a little moral support from other writers or editors goes a long, long way. It’s too easy to get stuck in your own rut!

  6. The hibernating-bear-in-me amid this solstice time feels dormant. Underground. Under the ground. A waiting. Quietly still. Fallow field all around. As a writer, I do feel the weight and the heaviness. Hopes and dreams unfulfilled. Self-imposed deadlines useless. The bear is dreaming of “sticky stuckness”. The slap and the claw and slicking her teeth with sweetness on a happy tongue, though the lives of bees minding their own business are changed forever. Interestingly, hibernation is a cyclical thing for me personally. The heaviness disappears as the hibernation sloughs the weight. There’s promise of a solstice-inspired awakening in the offing.

    • I think the sticky stuckness is cyclical for a lot of writers, Dianne, so yes, there is hope! Winter is hard. The holidays are hard. Which is why I’m seeing it so much now, and why this became the subject of the December newsletter!! Sometimes you can’t push through no matter what, which is why I said no amount of structures can help when you’re in this place. Sometimes you do just have to wait it out and wait to be inspired. But be proactive. Seek the inspiration! 🙂

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