There’s a carnival game I love called Roller Bowler. The objective is to propel a bowling ball over a hump on a metal track. Sounds simple, but it’s not so easy. Too little force, and you won’t make it over the hump in the first place. Too much force, and the ball will go racing over the hump, rebound against the rear wall, and come hurtling right back at you. Either way, you lose.
Daily writing sessions are like Roller Bowler for me. If I don’t bully myself a little bit, I can easily waste the day running errands, surfing the internet, or even cleaning the house. But if I push myself too hard, I can end up sucking all the joy out of my follow-your-passion pursuit. For me personally, that kind of negative energy creates an even bigger obstacle than regular old distractability.
But if I apply just the right amount of pressure, that’s when the magic is unlocked. Like a Roller Bowler ball settling into the valley of its track, I find myself comfortably in the zone. The minutes pass by without my even noticing. My fingers fly, and my words fill the page with tension, imagery, and snappy dialogue. I’ve won the game.
Again, sounds simple, but it’s not so easy. How do you find that balance between too much force and not enough?
I think for most people — myself included — starting is the hardest part. The blank page can be intimidating, whereas watching Netflix or scrolling through Facebook is practically effortless. But they are also less rewarding.
Here are a few tricks I use to get myself over that initial hump:
- Set time limits instead of word quotas. For example, aim for 25 minutes rather than 500 words. The point isn’t quantity — and it isn’t really quality either. The point is to put in the work, regardless of the outcome. (Although, good news: the more you practice, the better you’ll get.)
- Focus on a tree instead of the forest. You’re not writing a novel today. You’re writing a scene. Or maybe just a paragraph. Zoom in, because the big picture can be overwhelming.
- Remind yourself that writing is wonderful. Find a beautiful desktop wallpaper (like this or this) to inspire you in the background. Leave yourself post-it notes with empowering quotes (like this or this). Literally say out loud to yourself, “Writing is fun!” and “I love to write.” I seriously do that sometimes, and it really does help.
- Talk about your writing with a critique partner or trusted friend. Whether you’re solving a plot problem or just rambling about characters and themes, sharing your thoughts with another person can really light you up with excitement for your story. It’s like a little jolt of electricity, and it just might spark into fuel for a good writing session.
Working in tandem with that, these are the strategies I use to stop myself from hitting the wall:
- Set small goals to build positive momentum. 25 min is better than 2 hours, and 250 words is better than 2000. If you have a good little writing session, you can always try for another. But if you bust on a big one, you’ll probably end up feeling guilty about it, and that’s not exactly motivating for the next time.
- Give yourself permission to write poorly. Because you can’t make gold out of nothing, but you can make a diamond out of carbon buried deep in the dirt. That’s what revision is for.
- Do not beat yourself up about bad days. Just let them go. It’s tempting to carry-over quotas. “I only wrote for 10 minutes today, so I have to do 40 tomorrow.” But 40 might become 60 might add up to 100 might snowball into 300 and suddenly you’ve set yourself an impossible and unappealing task. My advice? Take writing seriously, but don’t turn it into a burden.
These things might sound basic, especially to Writer Unboxed regulars. But it’s so easy to lose sight of them when we’re busy eying agents and book deals and movie news and Franzendrama and Amazonageddon and whatever else is going on in the publishing world. Sometimes we just need a reminder or two to help bring us back to center.
How do you get yourself over the hump? And how do you stop yourself from hitting the wall?
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