Willpower Won’t Power Emotional Writing

pick that shovelEmotional writing connects with readers. But you’re not going to produce it simply by trying harder or longer. You can’t will yourself to an emotional outpouring. I’d like to chat more about ways to increase the amperage in our writing, but I’d like to be sure you understand that “trying harder” isn’t one of them.

Here’s your homework: read any or all of these fine articles on the limitations of willpower, and understand that this is how your brain is wired, not some failure on your part. While these articles are, in general, talking about persistence, problem-solving, and self-control, the principles affect your efforts to produce emotionally evocative prose.

  • First, a long scholarly article on willpower at the website of the American Psychological Association
  • From the Wall Street Journal: “we should respect the feebleness of self-control”
  • From Charles Duhigg, author of the stupendously helpful The Power of Habit: “Individuals and habits are all different, and so the specifics of diagnosing and changing the patterns in our lives differ from person to person and behavior to behavior. Giving up cigarettes is different than curbing overeating, which is different from changing how you communicate with your spouse, which is different from how you prioritize tasks at work. What’s more, each person’s habits are driven by different cravings.”
  • Brain science author and author coach Rosanne Bane in a guest post for Teresa Morrow: “The problem is that before you have a habit, you’re doing something that takes mental focus and a willingness to be a little uncomfortable. But our capacity for this kind of mental focus and willingness is limited – as anyone who’s ever made great food choices all day and then fallen ‘off the wagon’ in the evening out of sheer exhaustion can attest to. You have to use that mental energy wisely.”

2 thoughts on “Willpower Won’t Power Emotional Writing

  1. Joel,

    All I read here was the title (although I’m sure it’s an excellent post as always). The title reveals not only the case, but also the argument and the obvious conclusion all in one.

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