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
“I was ashamed. I have spent a good many years since—too many, I think—being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who as ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent.”
“. . . 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.”
Who was this loser?
Stephen King. Stephen350 million books soldKing.
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.
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 suspect I’ve spent 800 of those days doing nothing but suffering over the struggle.
Though the battle with Resistance is never won, I have been writing steadily for weeks. There are 16 chapters left to write. That’s not much. Yesterday I realized I’d left a major character hanging in limbo; they walk offstage and simply disappear. It took four short chapters to resolve their story in a way that organically served the larger story, and I wrote it all in a single sitting.
Come November 3, 2018, the 3rd anniversary of the burst of creativity, this book will already be published and selling well.
The group of mad songwriters I’m hanging with this month have a thread with 100+ posts about imposter syndrome.
Every artist who’s ever created something they feel strongly about has also felt like a fraud. Who am I to pretend to be an author? Who am I to pretend my songs are worth your trouble to spend 3 minutes listening?
John Lennon anguished about his lyrics. Stephen King is, to this day, ashamed of his subject matter, still smarting from a teacher’s disdain for the junk he wrote.
I have reached a point where I’m confident about my song lyrics, and getting there about my books. Every smart writer I trust has said they learn to ignore feedback except from very specific people in very specific ways. Not the 1-star haters on Amazon. Not their Best Beloved (though mine is my first audience, but her one and only job is to smile and pat me on the head; we both know her job doesn’t involve anything like honest criticism, that comes later.)
I don’t believe in the anguished lamenting artist who must bleed and die to create. We choose to do this. On some level we’re driven to it; I don’t think I’d be happy if I stopped writing novels. But no one makes me do it, and a lot of folks never feel the joy of publishing a book or performing a song they wrote. I get to make art, and I’m happy about it. It takes work, though, to focus on the positives when Imposter Syndrome and Resistance strike.
Next time you see someone doing something creative, whether it’s performing in public or just sketching a doodle in the park, thank them for daring. They can always use the boost.
Years ago I wrote a book titled (at that point) Anodyne. It was going to be the first in a series of connected stories each with a different protagonist, each telling their story under the pseudonym Jake Calcutta.
Long before the book was finished an author friend pointed out that the artsy intellectual guy in the book was nothing like the name would suggest. Jake Calcutta, he said, is a modern day Indiana Jones.
He was right.
I changed the protagonist’s name to Jesse Donovan and the book’s title to That She Is Made of Truth. It may become a series, but not in the way originally intended.
A dear friend questioned Steven Pressfield‘s anthropomorphism of Resistance, the mental and emotional pushback we feel when we dare greatly, equating it with fear and wondering whether Steve’s focus might not be ill-conceived or misdirected. Here’s my answer:
Ah, Resistance and fear. Yes, of course, it’s fear. Thing is, most of us never look fear in the eye. It is a vague shape in the dark, which means obviously it’s a monster come to eat us.
I don’t accept that all things in the natural world are good, or healthy. Some things should be fought against. If I don’t remove the weeds and bug and animal pests from my garden, I don’t have as much food. If I don’t fight off some of the bugs within my body I have illness. If I don’t quash certain thoughts, I don’t have mental health.
You have a slightly different perspective from most people I’ve met because you are way way to the right on the “comfortable in your own skin” bell curve. Don’t assume that others can now, or ever, reach that level. I, for one, must constantly question my assumptions and thoughts and actions because I grew up with a load of nonsense in my head about self-worth, the value of work, the value of dreaming, the value of art, the value of money, on and on and on.
An aside: Steve P does not want to be a guru. Refuses the mantle. But he can’t stop helping people ’cause he’s a nice guy. Though try to get him to come speak at your event, fergit it. But people need a Messiah or they don’t know how to find the path. Some of us, though, can look at what Steve or Seth or whoever noticed, notice the same thing, find my own takeaway, and go on to the next thing.
Back to Resistance: We all have things we need to fight, for lack of a better word, every day. Physical health requires abstinence from some things, persistence in others. Mental health. Spiritual health. Avoid some, insist on others.
Our natural state is entropy, not growth. We tend toward being angry selfish lumps on the couch in front of reality TV. It is imperfect human nature, and it is not possible to go the other direction without work. Should we call it “work” or “effort” instead of “fight” or “war”? Okay. It’s terminology. But a spiritual writer I respect more than any person alive today, the apostle Paul, wrote about a “war in his members.” He knew what war and death were, coming from a violent persecutor’s background. He also knew peace, kindness, unselfish principled love, and spent his life until a martyr’s death teaching it and living it. So, if “war” works for him, I don’t argue it.
Am I even coming close to addressing your discomfort with “the war of art” as a term, a concept, whatever? Because I find your question fascinating and well worth discussing.
Fair warning: if you are committed to the spontaneous pantsing version of writing, please don’t read this. You won’t benefit, I won’t benefit. If you’re open to having assumptions challenged, read on. To the end. Don’t read the first 80% and quit or you won’t get the point.
What is a House?
Though wildly different around the world, all houses share certain characteristics. Let’s explore the ins and outs.
Roof — Without a covering, it’s a yard, not a house.
Floor — It may be dirt, but it’s not water or air. If your residents are standing in a pool up to their waist, or swinging in hammocks 30′ aboveground, you’ve built something other than a house.
Privacy — Roof but no walls = carport or equivalent.
Toilet — Yes, in some parts of the world this is not inside the house. If you live in one of those places, you may dispute this requirement.
Services — Electricity. Running water. Drains. See above note for quibbles.
Egress — Without a door suitable for us humans to enter through, it’s not a house, it’s something else.
Lighting — Even if it’s windows and skylights, there’s a way for light to come in.
You may dispute any of these if you choose to live in the house yourself.
If you plan to sell the house, or even sell time using the house (called “renting”) I defy you to leave any of these out and still succeed.
After I thought this post all the way through by explaining it to Best Beloved I discovered that the scene I was thinking of doesn’t exist in the movie. But it must have happened, so I’m going to write as if it did. Let’s all suspend disbelief for a few , eh?
Who’s seen Kate and Leopold? Ah, excellent. If you haven’t, and you’re a hopeless romantic, go watch it. (If, on the other hand, you often find yourself using words like “derivative” and “predictable” after suffering through a romantic movie, please, don’t; or if you do, don’t talk to the rest of us about it, eh? Good.)
Short synopsis of some core concepts: Kate’s friend Stuart has discovered holes in time. He accidentally brings Leopold back from the 19th century. Kate and Leopold fall in love (you didn’t see that coming, did you?) and after Stuart sends Leopold back in time, they realize Kate must follow him.
I’m going for a 60s health-ed movie feel in the title, in case you missed it.
Writing without emotion is pointless. If you don’t move your readers to feel something, you accomplish nothing. Even with non-fiction, teaching a topic requires moving your readers to care enough to latch on.
With fiction, emotion is everything.
It’s no wonder, then, that we fiction writers are a moody lot.
I have days of euphoria. I also have days in the doldrums. (Like when we have the rare phenomenon of 10 gloomy days straight here in the frozen north.)
A dear friend commented this morning that they were feeling down about their writing.
After 7,000 miles, a good chunk of it in a single week, I am spent. (I realize all my posts lately seem to be “life lessons from Joel’s traveling and how it affects his work” and now that we’re settled, er, settling, watch for real life genuine content again soon.)
(Aw, this is real live genuine content. It applies to your art and mine. Just watch.)
I finished the text for one book. Editing is in progress, but slowly.
Sue’s business life changed significantly for the better, opening new possibilities for us. Still, it’s change. Even good stress is stress. Try having a child. Most glorious event in human life. Also on the short list of most taxing, physically and emotionally.
Am I behind on this, that, and the other thing? Yup.
Marathon runners hit a wall of physical failure near the end of the race. The will may be strong, but the human body has limits, and one of them arises at about 23 miles of constant forward movement. Issues with glucose and other chemicals I don’t know the names of shut the legs off, make the arms refuse, turn the trunk to oatmeal.
I don’t know if it’s that my allergies are especially bad (curse you, California plant life!) or the broader concept of approaching the senior discount at the movie theater, but I’m tired. We have 2,152 miles to get home, and I’m tired. Today we drive from Newport Beach to Surprise, Arizona. Not a bad day for us. Six hours door to door. We’ve done 16 at times. But I’m tired. I’d stay right here except that I’m 2,152 miles from home. I keep hearing The Clash doing Should I Stay or Should I Go? except the answer is obvious.