For the past twelve months, I have been writing a novel, which I intend to self-publish. I spent the previous twelve months jotting down ideas in a notebook – these notes got me to the stage I’m at now: five chapters in, and progress has slowed. The thing is, I have a story with a beginning, middle and ending. What I am finding difficult, is sitting down to write it.
Last year, I bought a book by author Steven Pressfield called The War of Art, and I’ve finally got round to reading it (apparently I was too “busy” until now). The book promises to help readers “break through the blocks and win your inner creative battles.” Pressfield does this by defining the invisible force that causes creative people to procrastinate: Tweet, check Facebook, masturbate, smoke, drink coffee, play computer games (Steam, anyone?) – ANYTHING but writing!. He calls this force Resistance:
“Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.”
Chances are, if you have broken off from your daily routine to read this post, you are experiencing some level of Resistance right now. So what can be done about it?
The book consists of series of short passages, mostly one or two pages in length, that aim to kick the recalcitrant writer into action and inspire them to “do the work.” The idea that writing, professional or otherwise is work, and is as valuable as any other task, is one of the key points behind this book. The belief that writing is something that should only be done when one is in the mood to do it, is completely dispelled across the pages of The War of Art. For Pressfield, the opposite is true: writing is work and should be approached as such, with discipline and determination. Pressfield claims to approach his own writing as you would any other job, having a morning routine of showering and breakfast before heading off to his office and writing for three or four hours as if he were an employee in a regular job.
I got into writing to avoid this kind of regimen, but deep down, I know the author is right. After all, he wrote The Legend of Bagger Vance, a critically acclaimed novel that was made into a film. Not to my taste, but pretty impressive all the same.
Pressfield distinguishes between activities involving the “higher mind,” writing, painting, music etc. and the myriad of distractions and earthly pleasures that stimulate the “lower mind,” or animal nature. We only experience Resistance when attempting the former. This is because delayed gratification and patience are hard, and slowly writing or composing music (whatever art it may be) is difficult and time consuming. We’re already halfway there, through, if you think about it. If we wanted instant gratification, many of us would be vlogging on YouTube, not slaving away at our keyboards on WordPress.
There is a surprising amount of information in this small book, and it is well worth reading it more than once. I plan to keep my copy by my desk. The next time I feel Resistance calling me, I will open it up and set myself straight. Whatever it takes to get the work done.