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Fighting the Tofu

Overcoming the Resistance to Write

One of the crucial components writers are often told they need is discipline.

No matter what, the ability to sit down and actually write is at the heart of, well, being a writer. But almost every writer will tell you, sitting down and writing is the most challenging part.

Once you sit down to write, the washing up you’ve ignored for days becomes the most urgent thing in the world, or re-organising your entire wardrobe is suddenly far more pressing.

The resistance to write is intense and often feels impossible to overcome.

Fighting the Tofu

In her book, ‘Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within’, Natalie Goldberg describes this resistance to writing as ‘fighting the tofu’. She ascertains: 

‘Tofu is cheese made out of soybeans. It is dense, bland, white. It is fruitless to wrestle with it; you get nowhere.’

Goldberg shares this humorous expression learned from her spiritual teacher, Katagiri Roshi. She connects it with her internal fight of wanting or needing to write, and yet also battling the voice telling her she can’t write. 

Ultimately, her advice is to lean into it; there’s no point fighting a battle you can’t win. 

Accepting the resistance is the first step to overcoming it. 

Five Tips for Overcoming Resistance

  1. Take the resistance to the page – Goldberg advises when resistance rears its ugly head, she simply invites it onto the page. She writes about it until she gets sick of it and can banish it from the room altogether. Instead of fighting the tofu, lean into it.
  2. Bargain with the resistance – Make a deal that’s easy to strike. Allow yourself time to feel the resistance and everything it’s telling you. If it’s 9 am, tell your resistance it has an hour to do what it likes and then you’re putting it away so you can write. Listen to what it has to say, tell it ‘thanks so much – see you tomorrow’ – and then write.
  3. Join a writing group or find a writing partner – Set a weekly or bi-weekly catch-up with your group or partner, agree to have one piece of writing you want to share and get feedback on. Nothing helps beat resistance like fearing you’ll be judged by other writers for not producing anything.
  4. Set some micro-goals – Resistance will often dig its spikey heels in when our goals are big and lofty. Saying ‘I’m going to write my first novel’ is a big and scary goal. Saying ‘I’m going to create a 300-word plot structure for a novel idea I have’ is far more achievable (and a lot less scary). Build on your micro-goals each week or month, and gradually work towards progress.
  5. Embrace spontaneity – Although a lot of writing advice says to sit down at the same time each day to write (and there is merit to this), if resistance is holding you back it might not be so straight forward. Inspiration can strike at any time, so keep a notebook and pen handy with you wherever you go. When an idea hits or you feel a crack in the resistance – embrace the opportunity as much as you can and write.

The key is to find the right tricks and tips that work for you and help you to either create cracks in the resistance or pull wide open the ones that are already there. 

You can create as many as you like – so long as they get you writing.

‘Don’t get caught up in the endless cycle of guilt, avoidance, and pressure. When it is your time to write, write.’

Natalie Goldberg
About Elaine Mead

Elaine is an educator and writer, currently based in Hobart, Tasmania. Her work has been published internationally in both print and digital publications, including Darling Magazine, WILD Wellbeing, Writer's Edit and others. She is the in-house book reviewer for Aniko Press and a dabbler in writing very short fiction.

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