We all have three identities, one of which forces writing to be an act of self-flagellation.
“We ought to write,” says Reasonable Self.
“But I don’t want to!” Impulsive Self protests.
“WE MUST WRITE!” Decisive Self roars, siding with Reasonable Self.
“Beginning” to write is not hard. All that “beginning” involves is penning a sentence or a word or even a letter.
But, in no time at all, Impulsive Self, who I call Eustace because I dislike that name, grows bored of work and whines and makes a clatter. It’s often enough to make anyone crumble up the paper in frustration and give up. Fortunately, Eustace has a weakness.
Imagine. You’re three-quarters done cleaning the dishes. The phone rings. For some reason, it sets you on edge. You don’t want to talk to anyone right now because the idea of the dishes lying in the sink, nearly done but not quite, makes your insides cringe.
That’s Eustace’s doing. Humans feel uneasy beginning a task without either completing it or finding an appropriate stopping point. Psychologists call this the Zeigarnik Effect, and Eustace will do anything to avoid this uncomfortable state.
Reasonable Self and Decisive Self, the clever beings they are, have invented two games to thwart Eustace. For the first game, Decisive Self issues a few decrees concerning the work of writing:
1. Never stop writing on a page ending in 0 or 5.
2. Never stop at the end of a page.
3. Never stop exactly halfway down a page.
4. Never stop at the end of a paragraph.
Why these strange rules? Because they prevent Eustace from finding the neat and tidy stopping points he so desires.
It’s stunning how effective this game is. Decisive Self reaches the middle of a paragraph two-thirds down page 7, an appropriate place to take a break according to the rules of the game. “Well, Eustace?” asks Decisive Self. “Want to check Twitter?”
“No!” Eustace wails. “Can’t we go to the end of the page? Or at least the end of the paragraph? Please!”
So Decisive Self lets Eustace win this time. We keep writing. But we have rules about stopping. And none of them will satisfy Eustace.
Once lunch or five o’clock arrives, the game ends immediately, leaving thoughts and sentences hanging. Perfect.
I call the second exercise, also inspired by the Zeigarnik Effect, the One-Third Game. If any massive task looms before me, I tell myself I only have to complete 1/3 of it. So I do. Once I have, Eustace squirms.
“Well? Aren’t you going to finish? You can’t just leave everything hanging!”
“Fine,” I say, and I finish.
For me, 1/3 is the golden ratio, but I’m sure it’s different for other people. What works for you? I’d be interested to know.
Beginning to write requires an infinitesimally small amount of effort. Ending is another story, and one that takes practice. Be thoughtful in how you choose to do so.