Taming the Inner Two-Year-Old

Sometimes trying to write feels like wrestling an angry two-year-old, except you’re the two-year-old. You’re cranky, and distracted, and you’d really probably like to have a snack right about now. The problem is, if you’re writing toward a deadline, you also have to be the adult.

The adult is the part that reminds you of your due dateand your daily goal. The part that points to the calendar and calculates what your new daily goal would be if you slacked off. The part that wheedles and begs … but also the part that can find ways to appeal to the two-year-old inside you.

The other day I was telling someone that things have to be Just So when I’m writing. It’s not a ritual, exactly, but an acknowledgement of my inner two-year-old. The toddler inside my head will take any reason to stop working and give up on something that’s too hard, or will just get distracted by anything else. So I’ve developed a number of things to keep myself focused so, as much as possible, the toddler has nothing to grab onto.

Instead of getting frustrated with myself for not being able to focus in a certain way, I’ve figured out a number of workarounds. It’s one thing to get frustrated with a kid who doesn’t want to do something, and another to try to figure out why the kid is being so stubborn. In these cases, I’ve chosen kindness toward myself and have purposefully organized my writing space and process to give myself the best chance. Weird, right?

Take these sheet protectors. I totally got them for Christmas and I am thrilled because I use them a lot. I like printing things off and having them in front of me so that my screen can be devoted just to the document I’m writing – fewer clicks and fewer distractions for the toddler – but I discovered a while back that I have this thing about writing on what I’ve printed. If it’s notes, I don’t want to do it. Making marks just messes things up.

Enter the sheet protectors. I don’t know why they work for me, but they do: the marks go on the sheet protectors, so I can still color-code to my heart’s content, but the original notes remain unsullied. It’s weird, sure, but it’s a step that I know happens to work for me.

Or how about this one: some days I start with a blank document, and it actually helps. Most days – and for a lot of people – the huge amount of white space is paralyzing. The flashing cursor just counts off all the seconds you should have been writing, but haven’t yet. But, on my worst days, I feel like adding to the original document would be like writing on my notes: sullying something that might not have been perfect, exactly, but isn’t going to be made any better by my current ramblings.

So, on those days, I open a blank document and release myself from any sort of expectations. They don’t even have to be titled properly. I’ve got one called “written doodles” that just worked for me because clearly it didn’t have to be great. They were just doodles, after all. Just me, trying to get my thoughts in order.

Other times it’s the room itself: the proper chair. Background noise, or silence. A better playlist. Turning on a space heater or opening a window. When I’m at my crankiest, I have to tend to all of these things first and make myself as physically comfortable as possible so that my thoughts can then focus on something other than “I’m hungry” or “The tag on this shirt itches.”

You don’t have to power through that kind of stuff. Writing is hard enough as it is without giving yourself more hurdles. The longer you work at it, the more you’ll discover your own little quirks and be able to tackle those straight off, building up your writing space and priming yourself to be as comfortable and distraction-free as possible.

Be nice to your inner two-year-old. Sometimes they really know what they’re doing.

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