On the Importance of Tricking Yourself Every Once in a While

Shauna Niequist

I’m deep into a manuscript that’s due this fall, and in some ways my writing routine is the same as ever, but in other ways I’m learning some new tactics to get me through. Here’s one that’s helping me get the writing done these days:

Trick yourself into just playing around with an idea, in advance of really and officially writing it.

Let’s say I have half an hour before the bus drops off my older son from kindergarten. That doesn’t strike me as enough time to really dig into something substantial, so I’m always tempted to just fold laundry or return emails.

But on my way to the inbox, sometimes I just very causally stop by a Word document and begin typing ever so casually. The stakes are low, and that pesky inner-editor hasn’t yet caught on to the fact that I’m writing, so she leaves me alone for a minute.

Sometimes I set the timer on my phone or my microwave for ten minutes, and I tell myself that I’ll just play, just wiggle my fingers for ten minutes, before getting all serious and writer-y.

What I’m finding is that those little bits and stolen moments sometimes yield the freshest writing, because you haven’t yet had a chance to take yourself too seriously, and to lay all that terrible pressure down on your shoulders, making you hunch over and stare blankly at the screen in desperation, the weight of all creativity and possibility bearing down on you.

With Henry, our five year old, the only way we really get anything done is by making a game of it, and I’m finding that my writing self responds well to the same tactic. Perhaps my writing self is five years old. I’m fine with that.

*Photo by Paul Bonhomme, Creative Commons

I generally take writing very seriously … and sometimes I think that’s the problem. I have a whole set of routines—the coffee, the candle, the comfy pants, that same Civil Wars album that always gets my brain and my heart moving in the right direction. I depend on those little patterns to clear away the other one million parts of life, to create space and focus in my head.

But every so often, I think all that set-up leads to stage fright. Sometimes it’s just all too much build-up. So these days, before I start my elaborate mise en place, sometimes I just tap out a few sentences while my son is coloring, while the baby is chattering away in his high chair, while dinner’s bubbling on the stove.

It’s not real writing, I tell myself, and that shift in expectation lets it be as wild and unforced as it needs to be. Lots of times these days, I’m surprised by how immediate and truthful the writing is when I trick myself into just playing.

What are your tricks to getting the writing done, the song recorded, the video edited?

-Shauna Niequist

Shauna Niequist

Shauna Niequist

This is a post by Shauna Niequist, one of the Storyline Contributors. Pick up a copy of her latest book, Bread & Wine on her website and make sure to follow along on Twitter (@sniequist) for regular updates. To read more of her posts on the Storyline Blog, click here.