For me, being a writer is an ongoing conflict. I have thankfully never suffered from a shortage of story concepts, and I have been blessed with something resembling raw talent for crafting plots and characters. Yet, assembling the various components into something fit for public consumption as a final product is where I struggle most.
If I can give my inspiration a name (“my Muse”), then I can personify that which gets in my way of creative success. I’ll call that adversary “Resistance.”
My Adored Muse
My Muse–to my mind’s eye–is a shy, even impish figure. She whispers in my ear most often when I am asleep and dreaming vividly, and I must hurriedly awake and write my dream down before I forget it. She shows me glimpses of magical worlds when I am hiking alone in the Badlands, and so I often stop to scrawl notes. She is always welcome to visit me, but does not always answer my invitation. It is therefore my Muse’s choice whether she will grace me with her otherworldly ideas.
I have found that I can encourage my Muse to visit by religiously keeping a “Writing Ideas Journal” so that she sees that I am taking her input seriously. When I fail to take note of those concepts she shares with me, inevitably she becomes shy and chooses to visit someone else for a while. But we have a decent relationship, my Muse and I, and we have come to an amiable understanding: that she will keep feeding me with inspiration, so long as I continue to act upon it.
That Fiend, Resistance
It is important to recognize that Resistance is not necessarily the opposing force to my Muse. The monster which is Resistance does not suddenly go away just because I have an exciting story concept. Very often, in fact, I will jot down a few paragraphs of a story concept, only to find Resistance stepping out of the shadows, wielding a blade with treacherous talent.
Resistance has many weapons in his arsenal: writer’s block, self-doubt, procrastination, distractions, laziness. He knows how to employ each weapon with devastating effect. Resistance tantalizes me with that TV show I just have to watch. He convinces me that I simply do not have time or am too tired to write when I am done with my work shift. He instructs me that reading an unholy number of books about writing is in effect just as good as doing the actual writing itself.
Resistance is a liar, but his lies are just so damned sexy.
Resistance whispers to me in a reassuring voice, “Don’t stress about your word count. Why do you set deadlines for yourself? Relax, enjoy life, have a beer and play a video game. You already work too hard, just take it easy!”
Most days, I have to admit I give in to to these temptations of laziness and distraction. I am a sucker for taking the quick and easy path. The fact that “most people take the easy path” does not give me any long-term solace, no matter how soothingly that monster Resistance sings that song.
It was in reading Stephen Pressfield’s superlative work of nonfiction, aptly named “The War of Art” that I first heard someone give name to Resistance. Mr. Pressfield’s experience in battling his own demons both internal and external yielded hard-won lessons, which he generously shares in his book.
Mr. Pressfield defines Resistance as “the negative force which keeps you away from writing. It comes in various forms of an instant-gratification ‘high.’ It’s what keeps us from sitting down and facing a blank page.”
He goes on to point out “That which you fear controls you. That which you fear and face, you will control.”
In “The War of Art”, he advises that a key principle for him was to treat his writing like a profession–not just a hobby. “A professional seeks order and discipline,” he says. “A professional demystifies things and focuses on craft and technique. You will never overcome fear; you just have to face fear and do it anyway.”
An amateur does something for fun. An amateur is chaotic and impatient. A professional, on the other hand, treats her work like a job. It is a vocation, not a hobby. A professional shows up for work everyday and stays on the job, whether she feels like working or not.
Mr. Pressfield additionally offers an axiom, to think of Resistance as a compass–or a “North Star” as he thinks of it. In other words, the stronger the Resistance to your activity, the more likely it is something you were meant to do.
If you are a creative professional–or wish to become one–I highly recommend you read “The War of Art”. At the very least, you will be doing yourself a favor by listening to this excellent hour-long interview with Stephen Pressfield:
I am implementing this mindset in my ongoing quest to evolve my writing from hobby into profession. I look forward to someday returning to this article and perhaps will recognize it as a victorious battle in my own ongoing “War of Art.”