“I make writing as much a part of my life as I do eating or listening to music.” — Maya Angelou
I woke up, wondering what I should write.
Should I work on my book, journal article, or short piece for Medium?
Should I work on them all?
But which one first?
As I made coffee — my squirrel brain running toward oblivion — I spilled coffee grounds on the floor. Momentarily diverted, my thought pattern resumed its circular motion as soon as I put the coffee on the stove.
After breakfast, I sat down to write. I opened the book manuscript and stared.
Where should I start?
Maybe I should work on Chapter 3. I open Chapter 3, only to realize it’s finished.
Great! I’ll write the journal article. But I open it and can’t figure out what I wrote. I’ll open the Medium article.
I’ve now wasted 20 minutes, and I’m frustrated. I write for 10 minutes but then run out of steam.
The rest of the day spirals downward. I have accomplished nothing.
What Went Wrong?
Squirrel brain describes what happens when I parked my writing on an uphill incline the day before.
Here’s what happens when you write on an incline:
1. You wake up without a specific project in mind — the same applies if you’re an afternoon or evening writer.
2. Even when you’ve selected a project, you haven’t mapped out next steps.
3. You hop from project to project, accomplishing little.
4. Your squirrel brain infects the rest of the day. You flit from task to task, without a plan.
How to park on a downward slope
Parking on a downward slope means it’s easy to shift into gear the next morning and glide downhill. You’ve set everything up to avoid decision making in the morning (if you don’t, you’ll suffer decision fatigue sooner rather than later).
Regardless of how you write, you can park on the downward slope!
Guide for Pantsers
Stop writing in the middle of the scene. That’s where you’ll pick up tomorrow.
For example, stop writing in the middle of a long dialogue scene, so you’ll gain more energy when you return. I tend toward pantsing, and this strategy works well for me.
Guide for Plotters
Stop writing after you’ve finished a scene (or a section if you’re a non-fiction writer). This works because you know which scene is coming next. You’ll start fresh the next day.
Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, what matters is that you stop before you run out of ideas. Then you can dive in the next morning. No hesitation.
Dealing with Resistance
The final benefit of a downward slope: dancing with resistance. Steven Pressfield’s capital “R” Resistance will fade away if you know exactly where to begin.
“[Resistance] is an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.” — Steven Pressfield
Don’t forget, downward slopes create momentum. Just plan the next small step. It’s a simple trick, but it makes your (writing) day so much smoother.
Dr. Rose Ernst was chair and associate professor of political science until she decided to pursue writing and editing full time. She is now an academic editor and consultant who loves to support scholars in sharing their brilliance with the world. Find her at roseernst.net. Sign up for her email list here.