Overcome Creative Resistance: Go Smaller


As I’ve shared before, I struggle with resistance. Many of the creative things I love to do are also hard for me to do. Sitting down to draw, spinning yarn, or making time to play the piano are all challenging for me. I often have a hard time getting started writing, even though it’s something I’ve longed to do my entire life. But I’ve made great progress and become a more consistent writer by following a key bit of advice.

Go smaller. Often you experience block by taking too big a bite. — Sophy Burnham

Block is the ultimate resistance. It’s an infinite wall, stretching in every direction, that is keeping me from where I want to go. It’s so strong that it seems like nothing can be done to break through. The world’s largest wrecking ball won’t even make a dent in it. How can I ever get through?

The secret is counter intuitive. Stop trying to blast through. That’s like sitting down and saying, “Today, I’ll write a novel.” Even if I could write that many words in one day (I can’t), I couldn’t have that many ideas in one day. The project is too big to think of as a single step. Instead, I have to break it down and do the tiniest, smallest, easiest step I can imagine. Forget the wrecking ball, and get out a nail file. Scratch the surface of the wall with it. Chip away. It sounds crazy and seems futile, but it works. The block, which seems impenetrable, will crumble from the vibrations.

This is how I get some writing done, even when I’m feeling too busy, too tired, or too sick to work. I promise myself I will spend five minutes on my project, whatever it is. Five minutes is nothing. It seems like an inadequate amount of time to accomplish anything. It’s scratching the wall with a nail file. But it works.

Some days, I will only spend five minutes writing. I’ll tweak a sentence, jot down an idea, or just remind myself where I am and what I need to do next, then call it a day. But some days, the wall collapses from that little scratch. I’ll keep writing and forget all about the clock. I’ll make major progress on my project and be glad that I started.

Either way, I go to bed able to say, “I wrote today.” And that’s much better than the alternative.

What are your tricks for getting started?

4 thoughts on “Overcome Creative Resistance: Go Smaller”

  1. I say this so much that I forget if I’ve said it here, but what works for me, and what I tell other people, is to write about what I WOULD be writing about, if I could. That is, if I am unmotivated to write, but I have an idea, I write about how I would write it if I COULD write it. If I keep at it long enough, something I uncover about the idea usually inspires me to start writing the actual story.

  2. That’s an interesting idea and one I have not tried myself. Thanks for sharing it!

  3. Yes, it’s very helpful to break down daunting tasks into more manageable chunks. I call it “eating the elephant one bite at a time”. (I forget where I heard that, but it’s a great image, isn’t it??)

    A trick that helps me is to tell myself that I don’t have to write anything, I’m just going to look at what I wrote last time and do some revision. Usually by the time I get to the end of revising the brain is firing and I’m ready to add some new words.

    Another thing is to do the thing you feel most resistance to first. Once you get that out of the way you feel such a sense of relief and achievement that your other tasks seem much easier.

    1. I almost put “eating the elephant” in my post, but as an ex-vegetarian, I’m even more sensitive to animal eating references than I used to be. Silly, isn’t it? Because it really is a great image.

      And just to show how inconsistent I can be, my image for “doing the thing you are resisting” is to “eat the biggest frog first”! Sometimes that really is the way for me to get moving. Other times, it’s better to ease myself into my work. Doing some small, less scary chore can help me get started and ready to face the frog.

      My five minute trick is a lot like your “just look at it” trick: Often with 5 minutes all I have time to do is re-read my latest writing. But that can be enough to get me over the hump.

      Thanks for sharing your great suggestions (and powerful metaphors!). 🙂

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