"Robert Boice...was [is?] a US psychologist who’d cracked the secret of how to write painlessly and productively. Years ago, he’d recorded this wisdom in a book, ...How Writers Journey To Comfort And Fluency. ... So if you hunger to write more, but instead find yourself procrastinating, or stifled by panic, or writer’s block, I can reveal that the solution to your troubles is…
Look, you knew this would be anticlimactic, didn’t you? The kernel of Boice’s advice, based on writing workshops conducted with struggling academics, isn’t merely old. It’s the oldest in the world: write, every weekday, in brief scheduled sessions, as short as 10 minutes at first, then getting longer. Reading that, I nearly flung my £68 book across the room in impatience. But that wouldn’t surprise Boice. Because impatience, for him, is a huge part of why writing causes so much grief.
His students, he explains, tell him they can’t afford to limit their writing to short sessions, or try his other exercises: they’ve got deadlines to meet! But that proves the point. They want to have already written – and it’s precisely that manic urgency that triggers panic and procrastination. As I kept reading, a realisation dawned: the non-excitingness of Boice’s book – from its title to his step-by-step advice, which you’re meant to implement gradually, over months – is itself an exercise in cultivating patience. It’s slow going because slow is the only way forward.
This gets clearer when it comes to one of Boice’s favourite tips: when your daily writing time is up, stop dead, even if you’ve got momentum and could write more. Maybe you could. But you’d be reinforcing the notion of writing as a mysterious force, to be harnessed whenever it shows up, rather than a humdrum activity you choose, undramatically, to do. “The urge to continue,” Boice writes, “includes a big component of impatience about not being finished, about not being productive enough, about never again finding such an ideal time for writing.” Stop when the timer goes off, and you’ll build self-discipline. Keep going longer, and you’re 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 your life. Don’t binge-write. Aim for mild happiness as you work, not storms of passion. And if all this strikes you as a waste of time, ask yourself: could that very reaction be part of the problem? Staring paralysed at the screen is an even bigger waste, after all."