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We have all been told at some point in our lives that getting started is the most difficult part of any project. As writers, we know this to be the case. In his article, “Psyched To Write! – Overcoming The Transition Barrier,” author, teacher, and non-profit manager T. James Moore discusses transitions as they relate not only to the beginning of the writing process, but to all the steps that lead to a finished piece/work. He suggests ways to accept the existence of transitory phases and how to overcome the challenges they pose. For those of you whose worst enemy is the blank page: Read on!
The feeling of moving on to another phase of any writing project is usually…ugh! After all, didn’t we just do good work? Aren’t we to be commended for having sort of finished what we started? Is there really no rest for the wicked?!
No doubt most of us consider the completion of any project to be a milestone: first draft, half draft, last draft. If it has a beginning, middle, and end then we’ve won a major personal battle that probably goes back to our childhood when we feared we would never finish (or become) anything. But eventually we must move forward. We must transition to the next thing, be it revision or a whole new story. Understanding our initial resistance to the work at hand is important in avoiding those other writer bug-a-boos: procrastination and block.
The first step in overcoming the transition barrier is to realize it exists and is replete throughout the writing process. The moment you move from having no writing project to sitting down to write the first word of a new story, you are in transition. Very often the experience is something like this: Sit down, fiddle with things on the desk, look at the blank page, begin writing, erase, begin again, think, etc. This is the effort of moving into the work. It seems hard because the page is blank, and we need to add something. But by realizing that we are in transition, it becomes easier to let go of the frustration of getting started and simply begin.
The next step is to push through the resistance and get your hands moving across the page (or keyboard). Again and again in my experience, the first ten words or so are the hardest. At first I type one word, then slowly another, followed consecutively by the next half dozen as though my mind cannot produce the words fast enough. But as the clog of my momentary block clears I suddenly find my fingers tapping wildly over the keyboard, and voilà! I have made the transition.
Perhaps the most important thing to recognize in navigating transitions is that a lot of our hesitation is based on fear. This is especially true during revision. As I sit with a fresh rough draft, the story complete and the pages clean, I am stricken with a deep worry that I am about to make all of my work a whole lot worse rather than making it any better. I get tunnel vision and tend to fall right back into unhealthy familiarity with my work. The solution to overcoming this dilemma is to engage yet another, secondary transition—that of focusing the mind properly on seeing the work in a fresh, critical way. This is why it is good to have a period of time away from the project. As serious writers, it is our responsibility to listen to the story as if we have never heard it before, catching the flaws and the internal seams where the story was first cobbled together. Once we transition into the focused mind we may then go forward with our work.
At the beginning of each new writing session, be mindful of the fact that transitions abound. Simply moving from the dinner table to the writing desk is a transition. Consider developing a ritual to help you get focused. Engage your writing environment, respect and even revere it. If you do these things, you will find yourself freely embracing the work ahead, with the challenges of transition becoming nothing more than a moment’s delay in getting started.
About T. James Moore
T. James Moore is a freelance writer, teacher, and non-profit manager living in coastal Northern California. He has a BA in literature and an MA in composition. Moore hosts a writer’s blog where he discusses a variety of topics important to the writing life weekly. He is currently in various stages of work on poetry, short fiction, and a recently completed novel. He has taught college writing at the community college and university levels and takes great pleasure in working with others who have a passion for writing. Moore is also a member of the Writers of the Mendocino Coast, a branch of the statewide California Writers Club.
Question: How do you break through resistance to get your hands moving across the page (or keyboard)?