top of page

What To Do When You Want To Write, but....Nah

Coping with Demand Avoidance

Here is a non-exhaustive list of some questions I asked myself for years before I understood a few things about myself:

Why can’t I go to bed on time so that I can get up early in the morning and write?

Why am I writing plans and not executing a single one?

Why can’t I do stuff that seems like fun?

Am I just not cut out to be a writer? (because surely, if you want to do a thing, you do the thing, right?)

What’s wrong with me?

Am I just a highly avoidant person?

*Cue alarm bell*

Yes, basically, I am.

I am demand avoidant.

Essentially we are talking about automatic resistance to any whiff of demand or expectation - even self-imposed ones.

For me it results from actual desires that somehow my brain helpfully twists into a requirement, such as “I should work on my novel” leading to an immediate, paralysing sense of…nah. It’s usually irrational and often perceived as laziness, lack of motivation and moral fibre. Those of us diagnosed as ND in adulthood will probably recall this perception coming from furious parents and teachers during childhood, and most of the time we internalise it. It’s one more contributor to low self-esteem.

Demand avoidance is about anxiety, at base. Fear of not being in control, fear that one job leads to another and fear of setting a precedent we won’t be able to maintain. For the ND writer, this is trés tricky. Rewards don’t work. In fact sometimes they make it worse. The if/then structure is a demand in and of itself (i.e. if you pick up your clothes, then you can have a Toblerone), so it doesn’t matter how great the reward is. If you think you have to do the thing every time to get the reward, you run the risk of creating a super-resistance.

Avoiding demand is a normal human trait, though. Everyone at some point does it. We can all make ourselves scarce when someone asks for volunteers; kitchens across the globe suddenly roll with tumbleweed when the recycling needs taking out. And who hasn’t feigned illness to get out of a party? It’s just the way humans roll.

But when this behaviour starts to spoil your life, holds your career back or messes up your relationships, self-esteem and health then Houston, we have a problem.

Pathological Demand Avoidance is a clinically designated term seen as a profile on the autistic spectrum, causing severe problems and characterised by disproportionate responses to any demand, however small.

But it’s a spectrum, and I’m pretty sure that demand avoidance minus the pathology part can still cause significant problems for all neurodivergent people whether you are ASC, ADHD, or AuDHD.

I’m a great believer in going with what works, and for me, being able to name my weird, illogical behaviour is enormously helpful, so sod it, I’m claiming the term. It’s a way to stop shaking my fist at the sky bellowing “Why am I like this?” when I have yet again failed to finish drafting a short story I’ve been obsessing about even with an entire day carved out for that specific purpose.

The problem is that demand can tip us into the fight, flight or freeze response.

I couldn't understand why this happened every time I thought about sitting down to write. It was baffling, when I so desperately wanted a career as a writer. But the up-close reality was too much. Too much expectation, too much at stake, too much distractibility and impulsivity, and so I avoided it, and hated myself for avoiding it.

Then, on the occasions I was able to get past it and onto the page and into that delicious sense of flow, I would get very afraid that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off next time. And so my writing happened in fits and starts with long, soul-destroying spaces in between during which I played minesweeper and watched telly, making my ability to write seem dependent on some mystical process over which I had no control. And that’s also why the narrative of “I did it before I can do it again” was unhelpful. It seemed like it wasn’t up to me. It was up to the muse, and the muse was a dick.

But it's nothing to do with the muse. It's your brain.

What advice is there then, for the demand-avoidant writer?

  • First, notice when you’re in it. Notice that the resistance to do whatever it is resides in this strange, poorly understood conspiracy of brain and body that results in you doing anything but the longed-for activity, even if that means sitting on the settee all afternoon picking your fingers, feeling anxious, bored, and guilty. Acknowledge it, always. Here it comes again, my old friend demand avoidance!

  • Bring down your anxiety with self-reassurance. Baby yourself through it. Remind yourself that it’s okay, you don’t have to do anything you don't want to. Life has no expectations of us, it’s really enough just to be breathing today. But maybe writing a few words might feel nice? Shall we try? Let’s have a little try.

  • Let yourself write badly. (I seem to remember Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons talking about this one but buggered if I can find the article). This can work well if you prefer editing to first drafts. Write something truly lame so you can look forward to making it shiny later.

  • Make sure you have an exit strategy: If I’m still hating this after ten minutes I can stop. If you’re in the library, or a cafe you might want to make sure you are literally sitting near the door and can escape any time you want.

  • Finally, impose an immediate ban on should, must and ought. Turn “I really should go to bed” with “Being cosy in bed would be great right now.” Turn “I ought to be working on that article” into “It might be fun to play around with this article for five minutes.”

Sometimes folks, it’s just how it is.

I’ve just come out of a couple of weeks of playing sudoku instead of doing anything at all to further my writing career. I’ve learned that there is a complex interplay of hormones, external pressures, and probably Mars being in retrograde that can make demand avoidance more likely. I can’t pretend that I feel ok about it, I really don't, and I’ve made it worse by giving myself a hard time, panicking that I’ve somehow lost it, that I’ll never be able to write again. But it’s not true. Because here I am, in the library, tap-tapping away on the keyboard.

So that’s my advice. Some things work some days and not on others. That’s okay. Keep picking yourself up, keep forgiving yourself. Trust that it will pass. Because it will.

And even if today it’s only your shopping list…keep writing.

29 views0 comments


bottom of page