Every morning I sit down to write, I feel resistance. But today, the resistance feels less like a background hum and more like an impenetrable wall. Like a massive fortress where all my words are inside and I am stuck outside trying to scale the wall.
Resistance is a feeling I have been aware of for a long time, but only recently had a name for. The name comes from Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art (which is a fantastic book that I would highly recommend to any artist, not just writers). He uses the word resistance to describe anything that keeps you from doing your work (writing for me).
This morning that has a couple of facets for me. One is that I am scared to start a new novel. I have been outlining a new book for over a month now, and it is finally almost time to start writing. The second is that I am not clear on what I should be working on this morning, and that is allowing all sorts of other things to distract me.
So I have a few walls to scale. The first is being scared of starting my novel. This is actually a fear I haven’t felt before. I have written two novels in the past, and I don’t recall having any level of fear when I got started. But now I have learned a lot more about storytelling, and I am about to write my first major story since acquiring all of that knowledge. I am also wanting to write more full-time. So basically, the stakes are much higher that this story turn out good.
The high stakes mean I am scared that even with all of my new knowledge I don’t have what it takes to write a good story. I think the answer to this particular bit of resistance is to punch it in its stupid face! If I write for the next thirty years of my life, I will still never write a perfect story. I will do the best I can at my current level of knowledge, and then I will start on the next project and do that again.
The second facet of lacking specificity is a little tricky. This morning that has manifested itself in getting distracted. I found myself doing other things instead of actually writing. My initial justification is that I sent my scene outline to a few people to review before I start writing and I haven’t heard back from all of them yet. So naturally I can’t start writing my novel. Also, I’m travelling for work next week, so that is going to throw my rhythm off if I get started now. Better to wait until after the trip. Speaking of that trip, I need to download some audio books for the flight. Oh and I need to remember to pack that one thing…
Now all of a sudden I am planning for my trip next week instead of writing. As soon as I realized what I was doing, I had to get back to writing. I don’t get up early every morning so that I can plan out a work trip. I could sleep in and do that. I get up early to write.
This resistance comes from a lack of planning and a lack of specificity. I didn’t have a plan for what I was going to write this morning. Partly because I didn’t know what I still thought I needed to do before I started writing the novel. The way I got past this resistance was to make a list of the things that I felt like I need to finish before I start writing my novel. Things like secondary character descriptions, setting descriptions, and refining my outline a bit more. Also waiting for that feedback from friends. The list helped me identify what my hangups were. After making the list, I went through each item and asked myself whether more days of prep work would eliminate that item from the list. Basically if I put in more work, would the list look the same at the end. And for all of them the answer was yes.
I went through this same process before deciding to have kids. I had all these reasons why I wasn’t ready. When I realized that waiting ten to twenty years would leave me with all the same reasons, this clued me in to the fact that the reasons were actually fears and excuses. The same is true about my writing excuses. They are just that: excuses.
At a certain point, making the wheel rounder and rounder doesn’t help anyone if the wheel isn’t rolling. So I am deciding that my wheel is round enough. I will start writing my novel. Resistance be damned.
Now for the last piece of resistance this morning. In a final act of defiance, I wrote this article instead of starting my novel. Oops. At least I was writing. Guess I still win, resistance. Take that!