To begin, tell me a little bit about yourself. How many of these have you experienced in your writing life during the past two years? I’ll include checkboxes so you can keep track.
Never finding the time to write
Making the time but not writing
Dreaming of writing but never getting started
Starting but never finishing
Starting but never finishing that one particular piece
Thinking you can do it without help
Thinking you’re beyond help
A love/hate relationship with your writing
Focusing on unhelpful criticism and ignoring positive feedback
Focusing on positive feedback and ignoring constructive criticism
Wanting to write deep but writing shallow
Writing for others instead of yourself
Writing for money but not treating it like a business
Reading about writing instead of writing
Seeking out feedback before you’re ready
Seeking out the wrong level of feedback
Ongoing health challenges like
Unexplained fatigue (physical or mental)
Mysterious illness (a neverending or recurring cold or flu)
Injuries (constant little accidents)
Addiction of any kind (substance, activities, self-destructive habits)
How many did you check? Type the number right here:
Is it more than zero?
If so, you’re facing Resistance.
I’ve written nearly 20 books and 200 songs in the past 11 years. I checked 17 boxes. SEVENTEEN.
I’m facing Resistance.
You’re facing Resistance.
Resistance? What’s That?
According to author Steven Pressfield in his seminal work The War of Art Resistance is the mental and emotional pushback we feel when we dare greatly by creating something. It is our unconscious mind protecting us from the “danger” of emotional vulnerability. It manifests in all the ways in that checklist above, and more.
Resistance is a bully. It will stand in your way and stop your progress. It will knock you down and hurt you, emotionally, even physically.
Resistance strikes nonfiction and fiction authors alike. (Memoirists, are you hearing me?) Writing a business book is still a creative endeavor and will expose you to the associated fears.
It will stop you from writing using the tools you checked off in that list above.
It’s Not Just You & I
Who was this loser?
Stephen King. Stephen 350 million books sold King.
This is a quote from his On Writing which, although not precisely instructional, is the most inspiring book I’ve read when it comes to staying the course as a writer.
This is the quote that gave me my writing life back. I’ll tell you that story someday.
Our innate desire to have our work respected can lead to problems if we put what others believe about our “God-given talent” ahead of what we want to write. It’s one of many ways Resistance twists natural feelings into quicksand.
What’s a Writer to Do?
You cannot defeat, once for all time, Resistance. It’s part of our mental and emotional makeup. We can, though, make it irrelevant. Note that I can’t say “ignore it” because you can’t ignore a bully. But if you defuse them, do things to take away their power, they are no longer a threat. Like the bully at school (or, frankly, in the office) they still show up every day. But we don’t have to keep giving them our lunch money.
Being a writer is hard. You don’t have to do this alone.
Too many writers are facing the emotional struggle to write without the support they need. After years of writing about it, I’ve created a forum to help writers and artists deal with writer’s Resistance.
It’s not going to be a collective moan-fest or even chat-fest. Instead, it’s a guided learning environment, a community of writers making a safe place for some “you’re not alone” emotional support. It will also cover practical and actionable tools and processes to get you writing and keep you writing.
Membership is $5 per month or only $25 for the whole year. Questions? Comments? Shout ’em out below and I’ll answer every one.
I also know that asking others for feedback when what we really want is a pat on the head is fraught with peril, asking for trouble, bending over and begging to be kicked.
Some general thoughts and specific comments on feedback:
In Story Robert McKee talks about “the negation of the negation” (NotN). It’s not mathematical, the multiplication of two negatives leading to a positive. It is the end of the line in the emotional or moral value of the internal story.
Take the normal “worst case” scenario, and find the thing that’s so much worse it’s unthinkable.
In “living dead” stories, that’s often the fate worse than death: damnation, or living death.
McKee talks about four stages, from The Big Win through Not So Much to Real Bad and finally, the NotN. For instance, in a love story you can have true love, indifference, active dislike/hate, and the worst thing in a normal romance, hate masquerading as love.
Scifi adventure: success might be beating the aliens. The other end of the spectrum might be seeing your whole race enslaved by the aliens, in a manner which prevents mass suicide. Nope. You’re slaves, maybe even eternally because they gave you live-forever-juice.
For many stories, the NotN is going to be, if not unique, at east customized.
The lighter the story the less devastating the NotN. For instance, in my book A Long, Hard Look
- Success: Phil solves the case and gets the girl.
- The likely case is he doesn’t solve the case, but at least he gets the girl.
- Worst case, you’d think, is he doesn’t solve the case, doesn’t get the girl.
- What happens is he stands in a room full of his girl’s family and is helpless to prevent one from killing another, and in the end, his girl leaves because he reminds her of his failure and her family’s brokenness.
Not only does the case get solved too late to prevent another death, the girl despises him and runs away.
Figure out what your readers will assume equals “success” and if you choose a happy ending, deliver that and more.
Know, or define, what they’ll expect as the “less than success” the hero is worried will be his fate.
Know what your readers expect as a worst case scenario. That’s failure.
Make your protagonist suffer that failure, then give him a way out.
Then, come up with something so unimaginable your readers never saw it coming, couldn’t foresee it, won’t believe their eyes.
And aim it straight at your hero.
Patrick, the little kid up the street who ate 3/4 of a stick of Imperial margarine trying to get the crown to magically appear in his head like in the commercials, had a swimming pool. Just once, all the kids in the neighborhood were invited over to swim while his father played lifeguard. Patrick, tiny as he was, jumped into the deep end like a fish. My older brother and Rose the neighbor girl both swim around in the deep end. And there I was, in the shallow end, with the babies. Except Patrick. He was a baby, but perhaps margarine made him buoyant.
I said I wanted to swim in the deep end, too, and Patrick’s father said, “Why don’t you swim over to the ladder on the side and let’s see how you do.”
I confidently ducked under, knowing I could swim farther underwater, and in about 3.4 seconds, ran out of breath and popped to the surface, yelling, “Help! Help! Help!”
There was a huge splash and someone lifted me out of the pool and set me on the side. Patrick’s father, from in the pool, said, “Perhaps you should stay in the shallow end for now.”
It is astonishing to me that 50 years later, I still find it embarrassing. I’m not saying I would have preferred a tragic death in front of my friends to being rescued. I’m not saying that.
We are strange creatures indeed.
Humans share a handful of fundamental fears. The psychology of fear is complex enough that searching the internet for “fundamental human fears” will provide a million websites by a hundred thousand experts sharing a thousand lists of the true absolute definitive fundamental human fears.
- fear of rejection
- fear of shame
- fear of loss of control (sending our creative work out into the world to be eaten alive by critics, for instance)
You have these fears. No matter how well-adjusted you are, no matter your support network, self-esteem, accomplishments, social status, level of confidence, or anything else, you have these fears.
And just as you can’t choose not to feel the pain when you stub your toe or get punched in the head, you can’t simply choose not to feel the pain of rejection, shame, or loss of control.
Because they’re the same pain.
Let’s ask a UCLA professor of social psychology to weigh in, eh?
Why there? Why aren’t we prevented from having the great idea in the first place?
Because thinking is imaginary.
Writing creates reality.
The reality, of course, of our own belief. Just as we see, hear, and feel with our brain, not our eyes, ears, or fingers, we don’t experience reality outside of ourselves, we experience inside our heads.
And our heads are very very good at knowing the difference between imaginary and real. Planning a crime we’ll never commit, in order to write a story, fires very different portions of our brain than, for instance, remembering the time we actually stole something from the five and dime.
An Experiment in Shame and Reality
After finishing his latest fiction I’m rereading Stephen King’s On Writing which, although not precisely instructional, is the most inspiring book I’ve read when it comes to staying the course as a writer.
Last night this reminded me why:
“. . . in my heart I stayed ashamed. I kept hearing Miss Hisler asking why I wanted to waste my talent, why I wanted to waste my time, why I wanted to write junk.”—from Stephen King’s On Writing p50
shatter leaves from the trees and slash them through my dream
pour them onto the road I cannot travel
smear them across the windows I cannot see
tear the rain from the air and chase it from this place
dry the lies
and the hate and
upturn the funnel
empty the blackness till it whitens
drag my heart from here to that place I belong
that place where I dreamt I was me,
where I dreamt I was myself
We chatted for an hour about brownies. I would make a big batch and bring them to the gig.
At some point I got out of bed, still on the phone, opened the door, and walked through the next room toward the kitchen.
He was sitting, no clothes at all, on the bed by the window, sunrise streaming across the white sheets. He stopped talking as I walked through, but he didn’t look at me.
Before I got to the kitchen I woke up.
We read in order to learn how to face life’s challenges.
A book without challenges teaches us nothing.
The greater odds our hero faces, the more we learn from their success (or, to be fair, failure.)
I’ll confess that the young boy in my current work in progress is me, and I’m using the book to work through some childhood difficulties I’ve never been able to shake; nothing world-shattering, just the usual pains of being different and trying to grow up.
Since he was here to catch a blackmailer, ignoring the noise and commotion onscreen was part of the task, and he was glad of it.
Also glad that he knew exactly who he was looking for. Easy to catch a criminal in the act when you know who they are. Follow them around a bit, do some discreet digging, and hey presto! Usable information leading to eyewitnessing their perfidy.
The light from the preposterous dance number bounced off a shiny silk suit. No, it wasn’t the suit.
It was a knife blade. And that was flashing toward the suit.
The suit worn by the blackmailer he was going to catch in the act.
Instead, he’d caught his murder, live and in person.
Every time they rummage, stumble, make any noise, I take an extra step. My slow climb is taking minutes that feel like hours.
I miss, or rather, don’t miss, one of the creaks. The noise above stops abruptly and a figure dressed in black appears at the top of the stairs.
My assailant, male I think, rushes me, probably trying to push me backward down the stairs.
I quash the instinct to fight back. Instead, I drop to my stomach, arms flailing above me.
I catch an ankle.
Then I catch a knee in the back as he tumbles over me.
By the time I turn and scamper back down, he’s lying motionless on the floor.
Before I even check for a pulse, I pull the ski mask off his head.
It’s more of a shock than when I first realized someone had broken into my home.
Finding that pulse matters now.
“I knew you wouldn’t take me seriously.”
“Not saying that. I need the lay of the land before I take the case.”
“Just because I’m not old enough to drive—”
“Hey, age has no bearing on whether someone needs help.”
“Or tells the truth.”
“That, too. People of all ages lie to me. People of all ages get confused about people they love. People of all ages come in here and tell me all kinds of stories. I pepper them with questions like I’m doing right now, and if I don’t like their story, they can take it somewhere else. So like I said, age has nothing to do with it whether I’ll believe you, or take you seriously, or take the case even if I do. I still need to know what makes you think she’s in trouble.”
“She packs my lunch for school every day. Writes me notes.”
“This is not surprising.”
“Wait, I wasn’t finished. This is the note I found in my lunch today. Read it.”
“He’s going to kill me. Get help.”
The blue-grey clouds squished over the rooftops down the road as I warmed my hands on my mug of darker-than-clouds coffee. A good night’s sleep would have been nice, thank you very much, but no, I got to bed early, tossed like a fish till all hours, then awoke, twitching and wild-eyed, at 3:13am. I’m not superstitious, so twitching awake from a nightmare to my WalMart digital clock displaying the usual number of disasters followed by the unluckiest number didn’t bother me at all. Not one bit.
When it’s black night out here you can’t see the next house, a hundred yards up the road, unless Mort is going fishing and he’s up early. Otherwise, new moon like this, you see nothing but stars until the sun oozes up over the hills behind my cottage. Then, the stars are there one moment, gone in a blue-grey haze the next.
Except that was all in my imagination, of course, what with the thick dark cover of clouds. It would get lighter. It would not get sunny.
Matched my prospects for the day.
I swallowed the last of the lukewarm brew in my mug and went upstairs to shower, shave, and dress for my last day as an outsider.