Writing can be difficult. There are times when you know it needs to be done but you just don’t want to do it (or you don’t have any ideas, or some other excuse).
Neil Gaiman, author of dozens of popular books, has an excellent solution that’s served him well. When it’s time to write, he has to write, and the only thing he’s allowed to do instead is nothing. Literally. He doesn’t force himself to write, but the only other option is to sit there and not write.
Neil was on a podcast with Tim Ferriss a few years ago and explained it further:
I would go down to my lovely little gazebo at the bottom of the garden, sit down, and I’m absolutely allowed not to do anything. I’m allowed to sit at my desk, I’m allowed to stare out at the world, I’m allowed to do anything I like, as long as it isn’t anything. Not allowed to do a crossword, not allowed to read a book, not allowed to phone a friend, not allowed to make a clay model of something. All I’m allowed to do is absolutely nothing, or write.
He further explains why this works so well for him:
What I love about that is I’m giving myself permission to write or not write, but writing is actually more interesting than doing nothing after a while. You sit there and you’ve been staring out the window now for five minutes, and it kind of loses its charm. You’re going, “Well, actually, let’s all write something.”
It reminds me a lot of the idea of a clarity break — where you escape from the world with just a notepad and paper and see where it takes you. It’s amazing what can pop up in your head when there’s nothing else to distract you.