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What’s in Your Bag of Tricks?

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Photo by Clemson

Since I was about 9 years old, all I’ve wanted is to be a writer. Some of my strongest memories are of sitting in my own little room at my parents’ print shop, surrounded by filing cabinets and spare computer parts and dusty paper samples, filling the hours between school and dinner by scribbling stories into notebooks. Back then, the words seemed to flow so easily, like water, like magic. Now? Not so much.

To be honest, most days I have to trick myself into writing. No joke. I think my Internal Editor is to blame. I don’t know when exactly she came into my life, or how she got to be such a powerful voice in my head, but she is the definition of a frenemy. She claims to be on my side, says she’s only trying to help me be better. And maybe sometimes that’s true. But mostly she slows me down, makes me doubt myself, and urges me to strive for perfection — which doesn’t exist and thus can never be reached.

What a jerk.

So when I say that I trick myself into writing, I guess what I’m really doing is tricking my Internal Editor. Getting her to go away for a while, or at least quiet down.

Here are some of the techniques I turn to:

Write By Hand

Switching to pen and paper seems to unlock something in my brain. Maybe because it makes the writing process feel more tangible. The weight of the pen in my fingers, the friction of ink against the page. The rough loops of my lettering gives me permission to make mistakes, to play. I’m not boxed in by pixels on a screen.

Change Up The Scenery

Whether it’s trekking out to a coffee shop or simply picking a different spot in my own home, I often find that working in a new spot stimulates my creativity. In a public place, there are conversations to eavesdrop on, people to observe, muzak to ignore — so much fuel and fodder. At home, there’s a comforting rhythm that allows me to feel safe and to tune in to my own mind.

Use a Timer

Willpower is not my greatest asset, so apps like Freedom [2] and Pomodoro [3] are helpful in getting me to close out my email, put away my phone, and focus on my story. My friend’s text message can wait, and the latest drama on Twitter will still be there when I’m ready to read about it. I get a Pavlovian satisfaction from the chirp of the timer, and I can sit back and reflect on my work session. Fruitful or not, I put in the effort. That’s what creates positive momentum.

Find a Buddy

I don’t generally cave to peer pressure, but when it comes to writing, working alongside someone else — literally or virtually — helps me stay on task. It’s easier to rein in my distractions and procrastinations when I know their fingers are clickity-clacking away and mine should be too. Plus, writing tends to be a solitary battle, and sometimes it’s nice to have a friend in the trenches with you. Someone who understands the struggles, the joys, the worries, and the dreams.

Aim Lower

In Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the heroine points out that anyone can withstand anything for just 10 seconds. So whenever she is faced with something difficult, she forces herself to deal with it for 10 seconds. Then another 10. Then another. Similarly, when all else fails, I tell myself that anyone can write just 1 sentence. So I force myself to write one. Then another. Then another. It may not add up to much, but something is better than nothing.

Those are my tricks. Not exactly revolutionary, but they work. They help me escape the clutches of my Internal Editor.

Unfortunately, she’s a clever girl, and she always wises up to me eventually. I am constantly having to rotate through these tricks, or use several of them at the same time.

Do you have any tricks that I can add to my repertoire? How do you deal with your Internal Editor?

About Kristan Hoffman [4]

Originally from Houston, TX, Kristan Hoffman [5] studied creative writing at Carnegie Mellon University and later attended the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop. Now she lives with her family in Cincinnati, OH, where she writes both fiction and nonfiction with a focus on feminist, multicultural stories. Her words have appeared in the New York Times, Switchback, and the Citron Review, among others. She is currently at work on a Young Adult novel, and is represented by Tina Dubois of ICM. For more, please visit her website [6].