WhataEUR( tm) s the secret of good penning?

If you find yourself procrastinating, or stifled by anxiety, or writers block, I can reveal that the solution to your difficulties is

I first encountered Robert Boices name about three years ago, somewhere online; after that, it started popping up every other month. Boice, I learned, was a US psychologist whod cracked the secret of how to write painlessly and productively. Years ago, hed recorded this wisdom in a book , now out of publish, which a handful of fans discussed in reverent tones, but with a title that seemed like a deliberate bid for oblivion: How Writers Journey To Comfort And Fluency. Also, it was absurdly expensive: employed transcripts sold for APS1 30. Still, Im a sucker for writing advice, especially when so closely guarded. So this month, I succumbed: I determined a transcript at the saner( if still eye-watering) cost of APS6 8, and a plain green print-on-demand hardback arrived in the post. So if you hunger to write more, but instead find yourself procrastinating, or stifled by panic, or writers block, I can reveal that the solution to your difficulties is

Look, you knew this would be anticlimactic, didnt you? The kernel of Boices advice, based on writing workshops conducted with struggling academics, isnt merely old. Its the oldest in the world: write, every weekday, in brief scheduled conferences, as short as 10 minutes at first, then get longer. Reading that, I nearly flung my APS6 8 volume across the room in impatience. But that wouldnt surprise Boice. Because impatience, for him, is aA huge part of why writing causes so much grief.

His students, he explains, tell him they cant afford to restriction their writing to short conferences, or try his other workouts: theyve got deadlines to meet! But that proves the phase. They want to have already written and its precisely that manic importance that triggers panic and procrastination. As I kept reading, a realisation dawned: the non-excitingness of Boices volume from its title to his step-by-step advice, which youre meant to implement gradually, over months is itself training exercises in cultivating patience. Its slow running because slow is the only style forward.

This gets clearer when it comes to one of Boices favourite tips: when your daily writing hour is up, stop dead, even if youve get momentum and could write more. Maybe you could. But youd be reinforcing the notion of writing as a mysterious force, to be harnessed when it was shows up, rather than a monotony activity you choose, undramatically, to do. The exhort to continue, Boice writes, includes a big component of impatience about not being finished, about not being productive enough, about never again determining such an ideal period for writing. Stop when the timer goes off, and youll build self-discipline. Keep going longer, and youre just indulging your insecurity.

Boice would have helped nobody, then, had he offered a quick fix because wanting a quick fix is the essence of impatience. Instead, decelerate. Make writing only a middling priority in their own lives. Dont binge-write. Aim for mild happiness as you work , not blizzards of passion. And if all this ten-strikes you as a waste of time, ask yourself: could that very reaction are some of the problem? Gazing paralysed at the screen is an all the more important waste, after all.

oliver.burkeman @theguardian. com.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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