Issues with reptile resistance

tuataraOr how I overcame my own brain’s freak outs and published a work of fiction

I’ve written about impostor syndrome before, so I won’t go into that too much. Instead I’ll list all the behaviours I tried based on my brain not wanting to try something new.

Internal resistance, as I understand it, comes from the ancient lizard part of our brains that wants to keep us alive. You stay alive by doing the same things you’ve always done, because those things haven’t killed you yet. But it’s not a smart part of the brain beyond that impulse, so the same instinct that prevents us from just walking out into traffic also creates resistance to new things which are quite safe. Such as changing jobs, or going to a new country, or attending a new conference.

This list is framed around writing and publishing fiction but I believe it can be applied to lots of attempts to try something new.

Procrastinate, just put it off

This is the easiest one. There’s always housework to be done or errands to be run. There’s always an enticing new TV show on netflix, or a stack of movies you should get around to watching. I have shelves full of books I need to read, I have a blog that needs posts on it… there’s always reasons to not write. There’s always other ways to spend your time, and they can be good, productive things which makes it easier to talk yourself into avoiding the work.

Solution: make yourself do the thing. Even if it’s just for five minutes a day, that’s five minutes doing writing that you wouldn’t have done otherwise. Every baby step taken helps to break down your internal resistance and build a new habit.

Forget about it altogether

This one’s insidious. I can’t keep deadlines for writing competitions in my head. I forget if I’ve told myself I’ll submit to a magazine while they’re open for it. Dates just fly on out of there and I focus on other projects, other things.

Solution: write it down somewhere you’ll check. This can be reminders that pop up on your phone, a trello board with deadlines programmed in, post it notes on your mirror, whatever you will look at. Now you don’t have to remember, because something external will remind you.

Multi-task so it’s never done

For example, you could write a blog post about resistance instead of the editing you’re not enjoying. Or you could think about other projects you have on the go and get excited and do those instead. You could promise blog posts to other publishers, and work on those. You could start a new thing! Everyone loves a shiny new project, right? This can lead to a hundred partly done pieces of work and nothing completed. You feel like you’re doing so much, and you’re staying safe because nothing’s ever getting put out there for people to judge.

Solution: force yourself to focus on one or two projects at a time. My current focuses are my new work in progress first draft (fun fun fun) and editing my last big project with beta reader feedback. There’s also a travel journal I’m working on typing up, but that’s it. All other projects are on the backburner until those are at the next stage of feedback. It’s not easy, because the temptation to work on other things is huge, but giving yourself just a narrow focus reduces time lost from switching your brain’s context between different projects and allows for quicker work.

Keep editing

What if this piece could be better? Of course it could. Now that I’ve finished my novel manuscript it needs a certain amount of revising and editing. Of course it does. But this can be a perfectionist nightmare of never being finished. I can do editing passes for intimacy, for story arcs for each character, for repeated phrases and words, for setting continuity, looking at it from a different perspective, etc etc. Editing is super important, but there’s a temptation to just keep on editing the thing so it never has to see the light of day because it’s not quite right.

Solution: Let it go. Nothing you create is ever going to be perfect. The tech delivery concept of ‘minimum viable product’ is useful here. What’s the least you can do that will create something a customer will be able to use and enjoy? I use this question to shape the amount of work I need to do to be able to let a piece of writing go. It has to be spell checked, I need a beta reader to give me some constructive feedback, I need to give it a final pass to check I don’t just have all my characters smiling at each other all the time. Maybe there’s a couple more steps in there too, but after that I have to let it go.

***

So there you have it. These are all real examples and real solutions that have worked for me. And the good news is the more you can push past the resistance, and achieve something new and NOT DIE from it, the less your scared little lizard brain will freak out about it. It learns that the new thing is safe, and it won’t try and stop you doing it in the future, well. Not quite so hard anyway. But each time you do it, it learns a little more, and then it will adjust to the new thing being normal.

Watch out, world, me and my freaked out lizard brain are going to publish a bunch more books!

If you’d like further reading on resistance and creative life, this post was heavily influenced by learnings from the War of Art by Stephen Pressfield.

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