Steven Pressfield dials in on the problem of artists like no one else I’ve read. He seems to have a laser focus on what ails us. I read his books and I feel like my soul is being laid bare. I feel like he’s reading my journal where I am at my most angsty.
I mean, he says stuff like this: “We’re asleep. We know only that something is wrong and we don’t know how to fix it. We’re restless. We’re bored. We’re angry. We burn to accomplish something great, but we don’t know where to begin and, even if we did, we’d be so terrified that we still couldn’t take a step.” Or, you know, every Monday morning for me.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been just pissed at the world. Angry as all get out. Unable to concentrate on anything. And after hours of piddling around on my iPad and reading twitter in an endless scroll and checking Facebook almost on autopilot, I finally force myself into my chair, open up a document, and begin to write. When I get up from that chair I feel reborn. I’m not angry anymore. I’m not bored. The ideas that I spent on the page are actually giving birth to new ideas. I feel excited and energized. Tired, too, but not the tired of watching tv all day, the tired of a day of hard but good work. Tired from having done something important.
The quality of the work doesn’t matter all that much, honestly. What matters is that I did it. What matters is that I stop resisting the work and sat my ass down and did it.
He talks about Resistance (always capitalized because it is a force that he, and I, takes seriously) as the thing that keeps us from doing our work. Not just from starting it, but facing it anew every single morning. Honestly, he almost talks about it in the same way the evangelicals talk about Satan tempting us to sin: Something we need to be always on guard for and make sure that we aren’t led to stumbling. And really? The sin as Resistance metaphor actually makes more sense to me than sin as saying a swear word or looking at “dirty pictures”. Because Resistance is the thing that keeps us from fulfilling our purpose in the world. It’s not just about writing or the art we create, it’s about all of the ways that we are meant to live out our calling. Resistance is what keeps us small and stunted. It’s what keeps us distracted and impotent. Resistance is what keeps our soul from coming alive.
When we combat Resistance we live into the person we are meant to be. We come alive. We catch fire. And people who are alive and on fire can’t help but add value to the world. We can’t help but throw sparks on the people around us. We can’t help but ignite a firestorm of creativity.
But only if we can overcome our Resistance, and only if we can help otters people to overcome their Resistance. It’s hard work. It’s daily work. But it must be done.
Honestly I fail more days then I succeed but some things that have helped me on the days when I do succeed:
Notice when I am feeling restless and bored and pay attention to that feeling.
Try to get into a routine of creation. It’s easy to sit down and write when I have been sitting down and writing several days in a row. And oddly enough I seem to have more ideas when I am producing work more often.
Pick a time to work. I’m not one of those people who can write at the same time every day. My schedule almost never works like that. But if I know what time I will have free the next day I can set that aside for writing time and knowing that I am heading for that time is helpful for me.
Check in with a friend. When I have a friend who is expecting me to write and I know they are going to check in with me, I push myself to sit down and write.
Have a deadline. I work best under pressure. In fact, I have a really hard time not being under pressure. So I need deadlines. And not just self-imposed ones, I need deadlines like Rehearsals start soon, there is a public reading of my work, I’m going to a playwriting group and I am expected to have pages, I have class and I am expected to have pages kind of deadlines. Those are the only ones that work for me. So sometimes that means that I have to create them. I have to invite people over for a reading, I have to sign up for a class or a group. Whatever works for you, figure out how to make it happen.
Resistance is real. It will hurt you. So fight it with all you have.