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.
Until next month.