22 September 2013

I keep forgetting how to defend myself against the feeling of being stuck—writers call it writer’s block, painters call it feeling uninspired, runners don’t have a name for it, they just suck it up and keep running—, so this post is a reminder on the two techniques that help me neutralize the resistance to get back to work.


Give it your worst shot

Perfectionists never get started. Instead of demanding yourself to instantly shape a flawless flow of ideas into a perfectly crafted paragraph, try giving it your worst shot. Lowering the bar from perfection to drivel short-circuits your brain into compliance.

Once you lay out the first imperfect ideas, you will find out that 1) they were not really drivel, and 2) they can be easily improved.

Trying to jump straight to the top is fruitless; mountains are climbed in incremental steps.

Verbalize the roadblocks

Other dangers await once you get started. They wield influence over you because they lay below the waterline of consciousness. Naming them is the only way to avoid getting stuck. Maybe the last sentence you wrote reminded you that you never changed the analysis to fit that new piece of data, or that the piece of paper where you wrote down the rationale behind your experiment is buried under a pile of papers.

Those are different problems from I don’t know what to write. Realize that the focus has shifted from writing to problem-solving; make a decision about how to deal with the problems (depending on how important they are, and how much time they will take); and go back to writing. If you try to plow through without explaining why you feel stuck, your brain will eventually convince you that working is way less important than checking your email.