What I really think when you’re not writing

When someone signs up for the Writer’s Circle, and doesn’t participate, I am always fascinated to know why. I don’t assume that the person is lazy or just not writing. And sometimes there are real reasons, like a sudden death in the family or an unexpected deadline at work.

But more often than not, when someone isn’t writing, it’s resistance. Resistance means avoiding the very thing you know you most want to do. In fact, the bigger the calling, the more resistance.

And if you’re the one in resistance, it can be tricky to spot. The stories we tell ourselves become so familiar, we take them as givens.

Garden variety resistance

Stories like “being too busy”, for instance, are common. It’s our best socially acceptable excuse, after all! These are the more obvious cases, where the writer says they want to write, but fails to do so, saying they are too busy.

It’s resistance, plain and simple.

Sure. It might ALSO be true that they are too busy. But WHY are they too busy? What self-created realities are they living in that make them too busy to write?

Resistance leads us to create overflowing lives with impossible tasks and deadlines, because if we CAN’T write, we don’t have to write. Saved!

We always have a choice

The thing is, though, we make the choices that create our lives.

Sure, we might have to hold down day jobs. But we don’t have to be perfectionists about Every Single Bit of work that we do, or work Every Single Available Hour to successfully accomplish our jobs. Perfectionism keeps us working on other projects far longer than necessary. Being busy in this way is the ultimate form of procrastination.

The reality is that it is almost always possible to write for just a few minutes a day, no matter how busy you are. Usually if you can’t find a few minutes, it’s because you’re allowing perfectionism and resistance to get in the way, one way or the other. Even taking on too much work is a form of perfectionism, because when we can’t write, we don’t have to, and we don’t have to see ourselves fail to reach our own impossibly high standards.

Insidious types of resistance

The more insidious types of resistance are new projects that suddenly demand our attention, like just when we’ve finally committed to writing a novel, we decide we have to start a thirty-day workout program, get another degree, start a new business, clear our clutter, move, or fix our finances.

Why do we do this?

On the surface, it might look like we’re mastering self-improvement in all areas of our lives, all at once. It feels so good to finally be committing to writing that we overcommit to trying to improve everything in our lives. Or it might look like we’ve gotten clear that these other projects are more important to do first.

It looks noble. Or smart, to get your priorities in order.

But underneath, it’s self-sabotage.

What we’re really doing is simply avoiding the writing. We might not be willing or able to admit it to ourselves at the time, but raw naked terror is running the show. Better to build one habit or make one major change at a time, ideally in small manageable pieces.

There’s nothing like signing up for something like the Writer’s Circle or committing to doing the work, and then seeing yourself run fleeing in the other direction (or just plain old losing interest) to clue you in to the fact that you are secretly TERRIFIED of facing the page.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being scared.

In fact, it’s ENTIRELY normal. If you aren’t scared, you might even be doing it wrong.

You might be surprised about what I really think when you aren’t writing

But here’s the thing. If you tell me you want to write and the instantly do the opposite, you might be surprised (or not, if you know me at all!) to know that I DON’T think:

  • He’s being lazy.
  • She isn’t serious about being a writer.
  • He doesn’t have what it takes.

Far from it.

In fact, what goes through my brain is:

  • Oh, poor thing, she must be terrified.
  • I wonder if he knows he’s running away.
  • I hope she will reach out for help instead of hiding.
  • I wonder if he knows how defended he is right now.
  • I wonder what she’s doing instead of writing and how I can help her troubleshoot it.

What I really see hidden in the way writers act out after they’ve committed to writing but don’t do it – is a cry for help.

The bigger the badder

And the larger the way the resistance plays out, the more terror I see:

  • Taking on new responsibilities at work or for the kids’ schools? Scared.
  • Going out drinking every night instead of writing? Panicky.
  • Suddenly deciding to start a new business venture or get a fine arts degree? Petrified.

All these kinds of choices – whether they are sudden new choices or chronic patterns – they are resistance, and show us how scared we truly are.

Is this grounds for self-flagellation?


Far from it.

It’s powerful information.

When you know you are not lazy or weak willed but scared, then you know how to deal with it.

The antidote for fear

The antidote for fear is courage.

But it’s also about having a super simple plan to bypass the fear and get into action with the smallest possible steps to get you writing. (I can help you with that here and here.)

So when I see you not writing, my first response is compassion, followed by tons of support and brainstorming to help you get going again. It’s as simple as that.



  1. I am completely in agreement with your assessment of why I am not writing right now. I want too. I have written a children’s book and a novel. I want more than anything to start writing again but still have not done it. I need a boost of writer’s motivational tools. I would like to join your writer’s circle and will try to enroll next time. Maybe you are my answer. I recommended you to my cousin who is trying to complete a non fiction book and can’t seem to get started. Maybe the two of us need to join.

    • Joanne, I’d be thrilled to help you and your cousin both start writing again. We’d love to have you. I have another writer in my group who is working on a children’s book and a novel, so you’d be in good company. And our non-fiction group would be glad to have a new member as well. Don’t be hard on yourself for not writing — just come and join us and we’ll get you into action! Registration for the next session closes next Thursday, April 23rd and the session starts the following Monday, on the 27th. Check your email — I’m going to send you a special coupon you can use to save a bit on your registration. :)

  2. Christine says:

    Jenna, what a wonderful post. I was for a while a Professional Organizer and I saw the same lack of action in my clients. I found that if anything got done (homework) it was to try to please me not develop a healthy relationship with themselves. They would use the same excuses to explain why things didn’t get done as if I was their employer or parent. When the whole time I was just feeling how deep their pain and fear was. It hurt me so much because they won’t let me help them and they didn’t think they could help their selves. I really wanted to help them see and conquer their root causes….Anyway, thanks for putting it out there and hopefully it will help some of your readers/clients.

    • That’s such a great thing to raise, Christine. I’ve been thinking about your comment all weekend. We take on so many things, not realizing or appreciating the depths of resistance we will be triggering. I do find it to be useful to have someone to be accountable to, when it comes to doing things that trigger resistance, whether it’s organizing, exercising, or writing. And the good news is that dealing with resistance in one area helps us deal with it in others. I’ve gotten much better about things like exercise and flossing since running the Writer’s Circle. :)

  3. Jenna,
    Nicely said. I find the same resistance occurs for all of my organizing clients as well. It’s always better on the other side of the fear, and it’s a really good thing the fear is only temporary!

    • Miriam, Thank you! And you’re so right — it’s ALWAYS better on the other side of the fear, and it is only temporary. So true!!

      And you, thankfully, were one of those people who helped give me some accountability for organizing my office, which is still holding up quite well, thanks to your influence. :)

  4. Huh – is that why I spend 6 hours on a video transcription to make every syllable perfect instead of creating something original? EESHHHHHHH

    Thank you for this FABULOUS article. I am struggling with horrible resistance right now. I feel like a scam artist who doesn’t have the wit, wisdom or moxie to become a reputable writer. My head feels heavy and empty at the same time. :-(

    “he antidote for fear is courage.
    But it’s also about having a super simple plan to bypass the fear and get into action with the smallest possible steps to get you writing. (I can help you with that here and here.)
    So when I see you not writing, my first response is compassion, followed by tons of support and brainstorming to help you get going again. It’s as simple as that.”



    • Yes! That could be entirely possible about the video transcription! We do those kinds of things to avoid our real work. (And I do mean, “We”.)

      Resistance means you are NOT a scam artist. If you were a scam artist, you’d do a crappy job, think it was great and sell it to someone as gold! Resistance means you’re a real artist and writer who has to overcome the challenges we all face as writers. Don’t give up!

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