Two weeks ago, I finished writing my fourth novel. I set an ambitious pace for myself–2,000 words a day, or a whole book in 40 days. For the most part, I stuck to my goal, and finished in 43 days. But the road to get there wasn’t easy. Getting myself to sit down and write that much every day without fail felt like a Herculean effort.
My husband and I have had this certain disagreement multiple times–he refers to writing as my hobby, and I get prickly about it. On the one hand, I can see his point–it’s something I choose to do in my free time because I enjoy it. That seems hobby-esque, it fits the bill. But on the other hand, writing is work. Really hard work. Work that requires serious brainpower, requires serious willpower to drag myself out of bed at 5:30 am, or off the couch on a lazy Sunday afternoon, to put my butt in that chair and write. Somehow, it doesn’t feel like my other hobbies. It’s not relaxing or rejuvenating in the same way. It is draining, agonizing, fulfilling, inspiring, all at the same time. I couldn’t help but wonder if this is normal. Why is it so hard to get myself to spend time doing this thing I supposedly love?
Any time you choose to fight against the path of least resistance, it will be a challenge. But I don’t think I really understood why creative endeavors felt especially tough until I recently read The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. This book is so aptly named. It helped me realize that how I’m feeling is normal. Common. It is all about the war you fight when battling to create. He identifies the enemy, and its name is Resistance. It is a part of ourselves, but somehow other as well. It helped me to name it, to personify it. Somehow it feels easier to do battle.
Resistance is everything that comes between you and your writing. It’s fear, it’s doubt, it’s comparison, it’s laziness, it’s procrastination. It’s wondering if this is all for nothing, it’s ten more minutes on Facebook. It wears many faces and has many names. Pressfield explains that “Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. . . . If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get. Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.” What a perfectly frank definition. If you let Resistance overcome you, you’ll deserve what you get, which will be a big bag of nothing.
So how do you overcome Resistance? You show up. Day after day. Even when you don’t feel like it. Even when it’s hard. “[W]hen we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unforeseen forces enlist to our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose. This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.”
But it’s not enough to just sit down and wait for lightning to strike. You have to become better at your craft, to constantly learn and constantly strive to be better. This makes the difference between being an amateur and “going pro,” as Pressfield calls it. “A professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come.”
This little book was exactly the kick in the butt I needed to see me through the end of my fourth novel, and on to start my fifth. Now, when I feel Resistance creep up on me, I call it what it is, and drag myself to my chair to start writing. Because as Richard Bach said: ” a professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”