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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Real Writers Fight Resistance, Right? Wrong!


Despite the militaristic metaphors found in The War of Art and similar books, blogs and articles, resistance is not our enemy and does not need to fought, blasted or defeated.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. It was a powerful early influence. I was relieved to learn Pressfield perspective on resistance. Just finding find a term other than “writer’s block” was a significant “a-ha”.

The War of Art is filled with wisdom worth reviewing; you just have to filter out the war-stuff.

For example, in his chapter titles, Pressfield identifies what you need to know: that Resistance Is…

  • Invisible
  • Internal
  • Insidious
  • Implacable
  • Impersonal
  • Infallible
  • Universal
  • Never sleeps
  • Plays for keeps
  • Fueled by fear

In the Resistance Is Fueled by Fear chapter, Pressfield promises, “Master that fear and we conquer Resistance.”

Pressfield is absolutely correct that fear fuels resistance, but trying to conquer resistance is definitely not the best approach.

Stop Fighting Yourself

The problem with trying to defeat resistance is that resistance isn’t a force outside yourself. It’s not an independent life-form that sneaks up on you and takes control.

You are the resistance. The part of you that is afraid, that is your resistance. In other words, resistance is you resisting.

Remember, roughly 95-98% of what goes on in your brain is below or beyond your conscious awareness. (David Eagleman, Incognito, p. 4) So it should be no surprise that even though you (your conscious self) absolutely wants to write, another part of you (which you may or may not be aware of) fears writing.

Trying to fight resistance means fighting yourself, which is hard to do. Even harder to sustain.

No matter what the outcome is, when you fight yourself, some part of you loses.

Let’s Talk About It

You’re probably wondering, “So what am I supposed to do with resistance?”

Accept it.

I imagine you’re thinking something along the lines of “Yeah, accept it. Riiiiight.”

Seriously. Accept your resistance.

“I’m just supposed to accept that I’m resistant and what, give up?”

Nope.

“Wait until I’m somehow magically not resistant?”

Definitely not.  

Don’t Try to Deny It

The opposite of accepting resistance is denying it. We distract ourselves, staying so busy and engrossed with other activities and people, we forget about our writing. Almost.

When we do remember, we try to deny that we are actively resisting by creating rationalizations we hope will justify not showing up for writing the way we want to and the way we said we would:

  • “I’m just so busy right now; as soon as ________ is over, I’ll go back to writing”
  • “I really need to revise my query one more time before sending it out”
  • “I should (read another book / take another class / get a degree/ join a new writer’s group) first”
  • “I’ll just (organize my desk / review email in case there’s something urgent / walk the dog / get a cup of coffee) and then I’ll get started”
  • “I really don’t know what to do next”

Once we examine the rationalizations, we can acknowledge that our excuses are not the cause of our resistance. In fact, our resistance is the source of our excuses. It’s not about what’s going on outside; it’s about what’s going on inside.

When you accept you are resisting, you can figure out how to move on. Until then, well, you can’t solve a problem you claim isn’t there.

How to Respond

First of all, stop blaming yourself or feeling guilty. Resistance is normal and it does have value.

You might apply Pressfield’s advice on “Turning Pro,” aka “commit to your writing.” Pressfield’s chapter titles highlight that a Professional:

  • Is patient
  • Seeks order
  • Demystifies
  • Acts in the face of fear
  • Accepts no excuse
  • Plays it as it lays
  • Is prepared
  • Does not show off
  • Dedicates himself to mastering technique
  • Does not hesitate to ask for help
  • Distances herself from her instrument
  • Does not take failure (or success) personally
  • Endures adversity
  • Self-validates
  • Recognizes her limits
  • Reinvents himself
  • Is recognized by other professionals

But most importantly, you need to…

Heed Your Resistance’s Message

When you resist, you are sending yourself a message. Something is wrong, incomplete, off-kilter with the writing you’re doing, the research you have (or haven’t) done, your writing process, your definition of your audience, your self-care or something else.

In Around the Writer’s Block p.235, I summarized the true story of Lieutenant Commander Riley (part one of the Riley’s story, part two of Riley’s story) to illustrate:

…the limbic system has vital information the cortex can’t perceive. But your limbic system doesn’t have the language centers, so you can’t articulate why you feel the way you do.

“Trust that even if you don’t know why you’re resisting your writing, you still have some valid reasons to feel the way you do… You must be willing to listen to your resistance to gain conscious awareness about what you need to move forward.”

Ask yourself – through freewriting, meditating, moodling, chatting with a trusted friend – what message your resistance is giving you. Some questions you might use (from AWB, p. 238):

What do I need? Is there something I need before I can take this risk?

What would truly reassure me?

What’s missing? Time, support, information, commitment from someone else?

What am I really afraid of? Can I minimize the risk to acceptable levels? What would an acceptable level of risk look and feel like in this situation? What can I or someone else do to get to that acceptable level of risk?

Is there something else I could do instead of this?

If I assume there is some validity to my resistance, what specifically am I resisting and why?

The point is not to be a writer who never experiences resistance, the point is to be a writer who knows how to respond to resistance. Here’s a hint: keep showing up!

 

Sources

Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, 2002, Warner Books, pg. 7-16, 75-96.

David Eagleman, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, 2012, Vintage Books/Random House, p. 4

Rosanne Bane, Around the Writer’s Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer’s Resistance, 2012, Tarcher/Penguin/Random House, pg. 23-25 , 156-157, 235, 238

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2 Comments on “Real Writers Fight Resistance, Right? Wrong!”

  1. Theresa December 8, 2018 at 12:18 pm #

    Afternoon 🙂

    I have a question about Product Time and Process Time. If you are writing more than one piece, should you schedule 15 minutes of either or both PT’s for each piece?

    I figured 15 minutes of Product Time, especially when you’re actually writing, per piece, and maybe one or two times of Process?

    You’ve probably touched on this a few times, but I didn’t find anything in an archive search.

    Thanks,
    Theresa

    Like

    • rosannebane December 8, 2018 at 1:34 pm #

      Great question Theresa! Thanks. I’ll explore this in an upcoming post soon.

      Like

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