Beating the Avoidance Trap


What’s your avoidance strategy?

Last week I wrote about my tendency to stay “busy” in order to avoid writing (and other potentially uncomfortable tasks!) Staying busy certainly isn’t the only writing avoidance strategy out there. It’s probably not even the most common. Others that come to mind include:

  • Chasing after shiny new ideas
  • Reworking the same page ad infinitum
  • Facebook, Twitter, and other social media
  • Web surfing

…and there are many more!

If you’re a writer who’s not writing, why not? Tweet-Button

Do you have reasons or excuses?

Beating Avoidance

So how do you tackle avoidance in your writing life? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but here are some starting ideas.

1. Notice what you’re doing.

You have to identify avoidance before you can tackle it, and as I mentioned last week, avoidance has the tricky habit of looking like Something Very Important.

2. Go Nike & just do it!

Often just diving in is the best approach. It’s definitely the simplest. Sure, you might feel like you’re butting your head against the wall…but sometimes that’s just a stage you have to go through before the words begin to flow.

3. Accept where you are.

Sometimes dry spells are just part of the process. Remember that working through them now means you won’t have to work through them later. besides, stressing over where you are is seldom helpful way to move you forward.

4. Add routine and ritual.

It’s all very well to talk about acceptance, but it’s much easier to get into a downward anxiety spiral. You know what I’m talking about: you’re stressed so you can’t write, which makes you more stressed, makes it harder to write. Routine and ritual are two of your most powerful weapons in your battle against anxiety-related writing problems. When you’re stressed, you need to trick your conscious mind into looking elsewhere. Setting up a writing routine, or establishing some sort of ritual to take you into the writing mindset, can help you to create a habit of diving quickly into the writing process.

I could easily write an entire post on routine and ritual and their effects on writing, but here are a few links if you want to learn more:

5. Remember to assess the whole person.

If you’re having trouble writing, are your other needs being met? Are you just overwhelmed? Are you genuinely too busy? Our modern culture likes to preach the philosophy that we can “do it all”. Maybe that’s the case, but we certainly can’t do it all at the same time. At least, not without self-destructing!
Editor Kate Gale wrote a great post on the importance of considering how you’re using your limited energy supply. 

What not to do

I’d like to end by pointing out something that’s not on my list: namely, figuring out the root cause of avoidance.

I admit, l touch on this idea in number five. It is important to consider whether there is a genuine you’re having trouble getting to the page. However, it’s equally important not to expend too much energy trying to figure out the underlying problem. We writers tend to be extremely introspective people. Most of us don’t need to be told to consider the why’s and wherefores of whatever we’re currently experiencing — we need to be reminded not to get stuck in self-analysis at the expense of moving forward.

Trust Your Gut

The truth is that extended analysis your “inner landscape” is less likely to reveal your best next step than simply trusting your instincts. That’s not just my opinion — that’s advice based on lots of neurological research. (And if you want to learn more on that front, check out the amazing book Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious, by Gerd Gigerenzer.)

“Trust your gut” is also the polar opposite of how my brain’s been trained to work so it’s not advice I give easily. It’s advice I give after working with a writing coach three years. Her most often repeated advice during that time? Trust your intuition, Cheryl. Trust your gut…which is the reason I’ve notice my avoidance habit in the first place.

Trusting my gut is also the way I’m figuring out where to go from here. What about you? Please share in the comments!

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