I’m not channeling my inner Star Trek geek with that post title (well… maybe just a little). I’ve been reading The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. Have you read it? I wish I had done so a long time ago, back when it was published in 2002… which was smack in the middle of a dark time for me as a writer. Or as a writer who wasn’t writing.
The War of Art is a book about the thing that keeps us from being the creative people we know we’re meant to be, from living the life we wish we could if only. Pressfield identifies this “thing” that can keep a person from writing, or painting, or pursuing any creative activity as Resistance:
“Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating form a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.”
As I delved into this book I realized that what he was describing is something I face down every day I come to the computer to put in my hours, or knock out a scene, or polish a synopsis or (as I’m about to do in a few minutes), work on the Market Comparison section of my proposal for my work-in-progress, Willa. It’s the Resistance to sit down and do my work. Instead I’ll want to check my email one more time, or watch that interesting You Tube video, or check to see if anyone has responded to my latest post on Facebook. I’ll fix another cup of tea. I’ll do some stretches. I might, if it’s really bad, go ride the bike for an extra twenty minutes while watching an episode of a favorite TV show. But wait–only half an episode. I’ll save the other half for lunch. That’s self-control, right? That’s discipline.
No, that’s me letting Resistance win.
It’s funny though. My memories before cancer don’t include experiencing this resistance so much. Some of my earliest memories are of me as a three or four-year-old, sitting at a table absorbed in drawing characters from my favorite TV shows at the time. And when I finally got the bright idea that I could write a story like the ones I enjoyed reading, I didn’t put it off, or wish I could get around to it, or find a dozen other meaningless things to do, I sat down and wrote it. And then I did it again. And when I wanted to create art, I created it. If it wasn’t as good as I’d hoped it would be, I tried again.
As I became an adult I found it hard to understand those who would say things like, “I’d like to write a book someday,” or, “I wish I was more creative but I guess I was always afraid it wouldn’t turn out perfect if I tried.” If you want to write a book, I’d think, just sit down and start it. How else is it going to get done? If you want to draw or paint, of course you’re going to have to put in hours and hours (and years) of practice before you see the results you’d like to see. It’s like any other skilled job.
Perhaps as a child the joy of creating was stronger than whatever Resistance I experienced, and since I got in the habit of facing it early, it was never a noticeable part of the creative process. I don’t know.
But then I got cancer. I’ve written about the job chemotherapy did on my brain here, and here, so for the sake of this post I’ll leave at saying that after chemotherapy was done with me, I learned what Resistance meant. I’ve fought it every day I’ve sat down to write since. Some days I’m stronger than others and beat it down in five minutes instead of thirty, but it never stops coming back. There’s no way to avoid it. The only way to go forward is through it.
I’ve learned something through this process, and it’s something Pressfield’s book makes clear as well: there’s no point in putting off the battle. It’s only by showing up every day and facing down Resistance that I get stronger. I get used to the battle. I find I have more weapons and strategies than I knew I had. One of them is patience. I know that if I sit here and keep working through it, even though my brain feels like concrete or at best congealed oatmeal, there will come a breakthrough. Inspiration will show up. The scene will take an unexpected turn and I’ll be carried along for the ride. The character will say or do something I didn’t put in my plot outline and I’m swept up in the delight of this crazy writing process.
But such inspired moments rarely occur before the battle begins. The key is to start engaging in the battle, whether it’s a book you want to write, a painting you want to paint, or a morning devotional time with the Lord you want to embark upon. Carpe Diem. Start today. It won’t be any easier tomorrow.
That’s what I learned, but it wasn’t until I read The War of Art that I could articulate it. So this post is going to serve as a bookmark for older me, whenever I need reminding. I hope you’ll be encouraged to read Pressfield’s book too.
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