I’ve met the enemy, and its name is Resistance.
I recently revisited Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, a book that, in a very direct, plainspoken voice, cuts through the crap and correctly calls out all the ways we self-sabotage and rationalize our way out of designing the lives we want. The book is brutally honest, and it’s brilliant.
Pressfield identifies the pernicious beast that stands between us and our heart’s desire as Resistance. (Resistance with a capital ‘R,’ as it must be taken seriously.) What is Resistance? It doesn’t come from other people, or your life circumstances, or where you live, or your lame job that you hate. Resistance comes from you. It’s the judgmental voice in your head that tells you that you’re not good enough, the voice that leads you to make false comparisons between yourself and other people, the voice that causes you to make a million excuses for not living the life you want. Resistance leads to (among other things): procrastination, poor life choices, boredom, depression, guilt, addiction, and unhappiness. Pressfield calls Resistance ‘the enemy within.’
In The War of Art, Pressfield details his own daily battles with Resistance in his work as a writer. As I, in turn, struggle to get my story out of my head and onto the page, I identify with that battle. About writing, Pressfield says this:
There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.
He’s right. Sitting down is the hardest part. Because just the thought of it, the thought of staring at a blank screen, of struggling to string a sentence together, is pure agony. And I really like to write.
I recently gave up one of my favorite forms of Resistance, alcohol (and its sidekick, cigarettes), for thirty days. I did this to detox and cleanse my system, but also – mainly – because I have work to get done and I need to be super-focused in order to do it. I have a full-time job and countless other responsibilities in addition to my writing, so if I’m ever going to finish the screenplay that has been tugging at my heartstrings, there’s no room for zoning out over wine at the end of a long day until it’s done.
So here I am, sober as a judge on day five* of thirty days and barely any closer to completing the damn thing. I have found a million excuses not to start. I’m lonely and I’m sad. Being alone with the voices in my head is too much. I want to go out, call someone, distract myself. I remind myself that this time is a gift, that I’ve worked hard and sacrificed much in order to create space for it. I can’t waste it.
But the voice in my head is a real bitch. She tells me that what I have to say isn’t important to anyone but me. She tells me that even if I do finish my screenplay and even if I do have the courage to put it out into the world, that it will ultimately just be a waste of time. That people will hate it. That I’ll hate it. Or even if I don’t hate it, and other people don’t hate it, even if it’s actually good, then what? I’ll spend all of my money producing the movie, which is way too hard for me to do on my own, and I’ll screw it up and then I’ll be broke and have nothing to show for it. So really, what’s the point?
This is the sort of Resistance-style crap that leaves me finding all sorts of other things to do during my detox, like washing dishes and folding laundry and making grocery lists and painting my nails and surfing Facebook and posting too much shit on Instagram. And it’s dumb. And I hate it.
So I picked up The War of Art. I’ll keep picking it up and I’ll keep countering the negative voice in my head with Pressfield’s fighting words, to remind myself that Resistance never goes away. I wrote this blog post to remind myself that making art is an act of war and that we have to do battle against the Resistance that threatens to derail our dreams every single day. It’s not glamorous or sexy or all that fun to do our work, but, goddammit, the only way to get it done is to sit down and do it.
I don’t know about you, but when I do force myself to sit down and write one of these blog posts, or bang out a couple pages of dialogue from my script, the bitch inside my head gets a little quieter, and I start to feel ever so slightly relieved. Doing the work is hard, but it’s also – truly – the only thing that keeps the demons at bay.
So here’s to doing what’s hard. Here’s to the struggle. Here’s to waging war. Every. Single. Day.
I’ve pasted the last page of The War of Art – a section entitled The Artist’s Life – below. I hope it helps you along in your own personal war.
Until next time, friends
*It was day five when I wrote this post. It is now (at the time of publishing), day seven, and since spewing out this blog, I’ve revised the first twenty pages of my script, written twelve new pages, and have completely re-worked the outline. Go to hell, Resistance.
The Artist’s Life
Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.
Do it or don’t do it.
It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.
You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.
Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.