When writing’s a struggle

I’m about to inflict professional torture on myself. I don’t recognise it at the time, but that’s what I’m doing when I head to the blog of a fellow marketer whose writing I admire. Not just admire – I love her writing.

It’s witty and warm and utterly engaging as she talks through her successes and her struggles, getting us involved in her family life and late night musings.

I read for hours. At first, it’s a delight but then I start to despair as I compare my work to hers. I don’t and can’t write like her. And that means I Can’t Write. Because obviously if my writing isn’t like hers, it must be rubbish…

I told you this was about professional torture.

So after slurping from the Koolaid of comparison, I’ve know that I’ve got to take action. NOW. I’ve been here before, many times, and finally worked out that the only way out is to start writing and keep going until I’ve worked my way out of somebody else’s voice and into my own.

And there are a few things I need to smooth my path back into self-confidence.

The place

In theory, writing can happen anywhere, but when I’m struggling for confidence, I like to be at my desk where there are fewer distractions, and the view of the garden helps me feel calmer and more in control. Everyone who writes needs a place that helps them get into the zone. For me, it’s at a desk but others feel more inspired in less conventional settings. Whatever works, head there when writing is a struggle.

The tools

My most valued writing tools are my earbuds and my timer. Popping in the buds and listening to music or natural sounds stops me getting distracted by what’s  around me. I’m most productive when I listen to natural sounds: waves on a beach, falling rain or the crackling of a fire. It doesn’t silence other noise but it does help me separate from them.

The timer is the discipline I need when I’m struggling to write. I set it for 25 minutes and work. When it goes off, I take a break for five minutes then come back for another 25. I do this three times and then either take a longer break or stop altogether. It helps me avoid the temptation to divert to something else if the writing isn’t flowing.

The mindset

My mindset is what got me to this dark place, and it’s what I have to use to move beyond it. I start by getting mindful. I take a few deep breaths and on each out breath I silently repeat, “I can do this”.

Then I make sure that I’ve got something to say back to the negative voice in my head. It’s the arch enemy of anyone trying to create something and Not To Be Taken Lightly. When it tries to tell me, This is no good, I can’t write, xxx does it better than me, I’m going to respond with I’ll think about that later. I’m not trying to tell myself that the voice is wrong but I’m giving permission to put it aside and get on with my work.

Finally, I remind myself that I’m not on my own. Anyone who writes has a constant struggle with the feeling that they can’t do it. But they do, I do and so can you. Use my ideas or develop your own – and don’t indulge in professional torture by comparing yourself to others. I’m working on that bad habit myself.

(A version of this article first appeared on HerBusiness blog)

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