About two years after my triplet children were born I learned about the theory of counterwill. Firsthand.

In case you're unfamiliar with counterwill, here is an example:

Me: "Alison, please pick up the crayons."

Alison: NO!

And another:

Me: "Claire, would you mind putting on your shoes?"

Claire: NO!

You don't need a degree in child psychology to know that counterwill -- the desire to say ‘no' to a direct order -- is a powerful, awe-inspiring, and unavoidable, force.

What happened to you during tax season?

You also don't need to be a child to display it. You have almost undoubtedly exhibited counterwill yourself. It is particularly common in April, during tax season. When faced with the clear need to work on your income taxes you probably cleaned your house, fixed the broken lawn mower and reorganized your hard drive before buckling down to the ugly accounting job you knew you had to do.

Counterwill is that little devil that sits on all of our shoulders and tells us to resist doing what we know we need to do. And counterwill is often a huge problem when it comes to writing.

Are you a procrastinator?

Many of us put off writing until the last minute. We procrastinate and delay until there's almost no time left. We say (use your best two-year-old voice here) "NO! I don't want to do that and you can't make me!" If this is a problem for you, I have a suggestion that will revolutionize the way you write.

My suggestion? Limit your writing time.

I learned this technique from a fascinating little book called The Now Habit, by Neil Fiore. Fiore is an American psychologist who, when he left the army, returned to school to study people who had difficulty finishing their master's or doctoral theses.

The problem is too much time, not too little

Ironically, he discovered that people with writing problems often devoted too much, rather than too little time to their work. They blocked off endless hours for writing. They said 'no' to movies and dinners out. They put their lives on hold because they had to work. But -- here's the irony -- with all that time stretching out in front of them, they didn't actually get much writing done.

So Fiore had an idea. He asked them to limit their writing time. And, all of a sudden, counterwill kicked in. Allowed to write for "only one hour a week" they miraculously found themselves becoming productive. They accomplished more in that hour than in a previous week's worth of work. It was like they were trying to prove something.

Give yourself only x minutes a day

If your writing is blocked or too slow, even though you've scheduled lots of writing time for yourself, then try something different. Tell yourself that you are allowed to write for only "x" number of minutes per day or per week. (You, of course, get to decide what X represents, but make it slightly smaller than you think reasonable.)

Try this and watch how the power of counterwill can help boost your writing productivity.

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