“Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”

― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle

I really enjoy The War of Art. I mean, some people don’t and that’s fine. Maybe you don’t. Cool. The concept that resistance is what just kills our creativity ticks people off. Far easier to think we aren’t meant to be writers or artists. I mean, I go through it all the time. C’est La Vie. Suck it up, blah blah blah, insert your needed grumpy teacher scolding here.

(Now, this does not apply to time. Time is not the same for all of us, despite what some supposed rich dude bro/dude girl gurus claim. 24 hours for me is different for everyone else because of my health struggles. A popular example is that 24 hours for a billionaire is not the same as 24 hours for a low-income person. It simply isn’t and to claim otherwise makes light of other situations and equates such things with laziness (and I hate it).)

But how I see resistance is the stories that we tell ourselves. Our fears and our hopes both co-mingle into a steaming pile of “let’s not do the thing but hope we get the right result anyway as a reward because *magic wand waving*’. The story that I frequently tell myself is that my art is hopelessly average, that it won’t ever go anywhere, and it stalls me out, so why should I bother to try? Just going to fail anyway. Fail, fail, fail because you suck, sweetie, that’s life.

Oof. Life in the danger zone indeed.

<cue Kenny Loggins here. I can hear him in my head already.>

Being in writer groups can be very eye-opening to both readers and writers. Readers can witness the epic level of meltdowns that all writers come to, eventually. If a writer claims to have always known their calling, to always be self-confident… I claim bullshit. It usually is. Those are often the people who sell courses telling you what to do, but rarely follow their own advice. Which… fine, I guess. That old adage of “those who can’t do, teach” is pretty accurate for the Internet. The deluge of courses we get hit with are horribly agonizing. 

(thanks, marketing, you ruin everything)

But what about when we get pushback from our own heads?

Resistance prevents us from pushing forward at times. People get filled with doubt and we don’t write. Many writers eventually make every excuse about why we can’t write and, as said before, it is sometimes valid. We’ve got kids to care for, our health is in the pits (hey-O), and the world seems to implode. But art is a beautiful thing that, when used properly, is necessary for our self care and for the care of others. Without art, we wouldn’t have movies, books, art, improv, Youtube, those TikToks you cringe and laugh at. We need it. It is something we desperately, inherently need. To be without art is to exist in a kind of vacuum that is sucking our will to live.

(I probably could make some political reference here, but I won’t. People get what I’m saying by inference sometimes. ) 

Resistance is useful. It isn’t always your enemy. The problem when you fight it so angrily is that you can actually dig your hole deeper and deeper until you can’t get out. 

Story time: I have a big thing about scheduling. According to my therapist of yonder year, it might come from a mixture of bipolar and ADHD, but that’s not really the point. In the past decade plus of my career as a mild-mannered and unhappy graphic designer in the corporate world, I learned to schedule things to the smallest degree. I had to make time to write in the early hours of the day or it wouldn’t happen. And I managed. I got a lot of writing done in those days. Then: BOOM! I suddenly didn’t have to do that. I had all the time in the world. 

So did I write? Nope. All this time means I could write to my heart’s content. But this sudden free time to pour my heart and soul into writing became, in itself, resistance. I became overwhelmed by all this time. Coupled with my illness and the need to recover, it just became a big chasm between me and my goal to write every day. So I just didn’t.

Now, how to overcome resistance varies from person to person. Some people need something slightly militant: a rigid schedule of your butt in the chair from 6am to 8am before work or whatever your life throws at you. Some, like me (who used to be militant), need to learn to be flexible. Snatching bits of writing time here and there and not caring if that two hours is in a row or separated by the events of the day. So long as it happens at some point.

Resistance sometimes shows the need for recovery. Pushing yourself to exhaustion and burnout is a sure-fire way to kill your urge to write. So you step back. You write smaller amounts; you watch movies, read unique books, read old favourite books, paint, draw, sing, listen to music, go for walks. Anything but killing yourself by trying to achieve a huge word count.

Do I think writers need to write every day to overcome their self doubt and the struggle to be productive? I’m not sure. For young writers, it can be a great practice to learn discipline and craft. But the thing is, if you write everyday then you need to have it looked at by someone else. Imperfect practice without learning how to get better while still practicing is just chasing your tail. You need outside help to make sure you aren’t puffing up your ego. The people who don’t have outside opinion in any way (or, when they get it, deny its potential truth) are the ones who screech about how unfair agents, publishing houses, and readers are because ‘they don’t understand my art’. Could be that it just sucks and you needed someone to tell you that after your second draft.

(Getting the people who feel free to tell you it sucks is a hard and painful process but very worth it despite the big ouch it can bring when it first happens)

But… Writing every day or frequently helps against the blocks and fears for sure. You gain confidence and you will get better so long as you are open to opinion and hearing about how you could improve.

I don’t think it is worth it if you spend the whole day in anxiety about how you are going to fit in your time today, especially when you have a million things on your plate and you are worn out by the end of the day. There is a whole self-help push to ‘grind grind grind’ and it is very unhealthy. You will burn out. When your so-called dreams don’t come true automatically, you may very well collapse and never write again. It is hard work and there is no doubt about that, to be sure. Killing yourself for writing is not the answer though. There are many cases of people who say they could have been a great writer if only they hadn’t felt exhausted. Don’t do this. It isn’t worth it.

The idea that we can’t beat our own struggles is also defeatist. It won’t help you. So what do you do?

You write when it is hard.

You write when it comes easy.

You write when you have something to say.

You write to have a voice.

Then you let it go.

Do not hang on to your writing or your art as if it is some precious thing that is the end of your world or your only thing. Don’t become self-absorbed about it. I speak from experience and I get it: it is your art, and it means so much to you. My stuff makes me happy too, even when I feel like it makes me a bit miserable when I can’t see my happiness in my work. But do not make it your sole identity or you are going to block yourself.

To beat the problems that you will encounter with producing art in any form, you need to live outside your little box and the confines of your own community. It is why I don’t recommend solely reading your genre of choice. I learned this years back that reading history books refreshed me more than fantasy books I devoured; if I wanted to get better at any romance in my fantasy, I needed to read the champions of that genre. Same with movies and artwork. I’m not much of an illustrator, but I am learning because it refreshes me. Losing myself in sketching makes me want to write because my mind wanders and comes up with ideas.

The sum-up of this little blog is this: When you are creative and make it your own practice to be creative, you are going to come up against your own demons, your own enemies, who are going to block you. They may be real people or they may just be yourself in a weird reflection like a Lewis Caroll allegory. How you choose to overcome it will be up to you and no amount of guru-esque prompting is going to shake you out of it, especially if you don’t want to be shaken out of it. You’re going to have to want it, in your little molten core of your soul, and you are going to have to find the way out of it. For me, it involves changing my stringent routines and reading more diverse books on the side. You’re going to have to experiment and find your groove. It’s part of going semi-pro, semi-serious and leaping out from the dabbler routine.

Best of luck, literary aeronauts. See you on the other side.

Stacie Hanson