Why You Don’t Write and What You Can Do About It

To begin, tell me a little bit about yourself. How many of these have you experienced in your writing life during the past two years? I’ll include checkboxes so you can keep track.

Never finding the time to write
Making the time but not writing
Dreaming of writing but never getting started
Starting but never finishing
Starting but never finishing that one particular piece
Thinking you can do it without help
Thinking you’re beyond help
A love/hate relationship with your writing
Focusing on unhelpful criticism and ignoring positive feedback
Focusing on positive feedback and ignoring constructive criticism
Wanting to write deep but writing shallow
Writing for others instead of yourself
Writing for money but not treating it like a business
Reading about writing instead of writing
Seeking out feedback before you’re ready
Seeking out the wrong level of feedback
Ongoing health challenges like
    Unexplained fatigue (physical or mental)
    Mysterious illness (a neverending or recurring cold or flu)
    Injuries (constant little accidents)
    Addiction of any kind (substance, activities, self-destructive habits)

How many did you check? Type the number right here:

Is it more than zero?

If so, you’re facing Resistance.

I’ve written nearly 20 books and 200 songs in the past 11 years. I checked 17 boxes. SEVENTEEN.

I’m facing Resistance.

You’re facing Resistance.

Resistance? What’s That?

According to author Steven Pressfield in his seminal work The War of Art Resistance is the mental and emotional pushback we feel when we dare greatly by creating something. It is our unconscious mind protecting us from the “danger” of emotional vulnerability. It manifests in all the ways in that checklist above, and more.

Resistance is a bully. It will stand in your way and stop your progress. It will knock you down and hurt you, emotionally, even physically.

Resistance strikes nonfiction and fiction authors alike. (Memoirists, are you hearing me?) Writing a business book is still a creative endeavor and will expose you to the associated fears.

It will stop you from writing using the tools you checked off in that list above.

It’s Not Just You & I

“I was ashamed. I have spent a good many years since—too many, I think—being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who as ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent.”

“. . . in my heart I stayed ashamed. I kept hearing Miss Hisler asking why I wanted to waste my talent, why I wanted to waste my time, why I wanted to write junk.”

Who was this loser?

Stephen King. Stephen 350 million books sold King.

This is a quote from his On Writing which, although not precisely instructional, is the most inspiring book I’ve read when it comes to staying the course as a writer.

This is the quote that gave me my writing life back. I’ll tell you that story someday.

Our innate desire to have our work respected can lead to problems if we put what others believe about our “God-given talent” ahead of what we want to write. It’s one of many ways Resistance twists natural feelings into quicksand.

What’s a Writer to Do?

You cannot defeat, once for all time, Resistance. It’s part of our mental and emotional makeup. We can, though, make it irrelevant. Note that I can’t say “ignore it” because you can’t ignore a bully. But if you defuse them, do things to take away their power, they are no longer a threat. Like the bully at school (or, frankly, in the office) they still show up every day. But we don’t have to keep giving them our lunch money.

Being a writer is hard. You don’t have to do this alone.

Too many writers are facing the emotional struggle to write without the support they need. After years of writing about it, I’ve created a forum to help writers and artists deal with writer’s Resistance.

It’s not going to be a collective moan-fest or even chat-fest. Instead, it’s a guided learning environment, a community of writers making a safe place for some “you’re not alone” emotional support. It will also cover practical and actionable tools and processes to get you writing and keep you writing.

Membership is $5 per month or only $25 for the whole year. Questions? Comments? Shout ’em out below and I’ll answer every one.

Defining Resistance for Yourself

I recommend The War of Art to every single writer I meet. I have yet to get any response except “life changing!”

I fall squarely between Pressfield’s thinking and process (Resistance is a dragon, slay it) and Seth Godin’s (Resistance is an ally, use it.) I say Resistance is a bully, make it irrelevant. Note that I can’t say “ignore it” because you can’t ignore a bully. But if you defuse them, do things to take away their power, they are no longer a threat.

This, perhaps, stems from being a very small kid, reading at college level in kindergarten, skipping a grade early on. I ran home a lot in junior high school to avoid getting beaten up. Also I have two brothers, both aggressive, both bigger than me even though one’s younger.

I have far more experience dealing with bullies than with dragons. Or, truth be told, with allies, particularly dangerous ones.

Your own wording of who Resistance is and how to overcome it every single day is more useful than blindly accepting anyone else’s version.

Including mine.

The 21st Century Creative: a podcast worth making time for

For the 3rd Monday in a row I’m taking more than an hour to listen to a podcast. I generally have little patience for podcasts; most have a very low signal-to-noise ratio. The 21st Century Creative, hosted by Mark McGuinness of Lateral Action, is all signal, no noise.

His first two guests were Scott Belsky of Behance and 99U, and Steven Pressfield, who doesn’t do interviews anymore—except when he does.

Eschewing the rush rush syndrome everyone thinks is appropriate these days, Mark takes his time, 60 to 90 minutes. Each guest ends the show with an artistic challenge; participate and you can win nifty useful books (and, not incidentally, grow artistically and personally.)

Make time for the 21st Century Creative podcast. Your art deserves it.

Can Art Be War?

A dear friend questioned Steven Pressfield‘s anthropomorphism of Resistance, the mental and emotional pushback we feel when we dare greatly, equating it with fear and wondering whether Steve’s focus might not be ill-conceived or misdirected. Here’s my answer:

Ah, Resistance and fear. Yes, of course, it’s fear. Thing is, most of us never look fear in the eye. It is a vague shape in the dark, which means obviously it’s a monster come to eat us.

I don’t accept that all things in the natural world are good, or healthy. Some things should be fought against. If I don’t remove the weeds and bug and animal pests from my garden, I don’t have as much food. If I don’t fight off some of the bugs within my body I have illness. If I don’t quash certain thoughts, I don’t have mental health.

You have a slightly different perspective from most people I’ve met because you are way way to the right on the “comfortable in your own skin” bell curve. Don’t assume that others can now, or ever, reach that level. I, for one, must constantly question my assumptions and thoughts and actions because I grew up with a load of nonsense in my head about self-worth, the value of work, the value of dreaming, the value of art, the value of money, on and on and on.

An aside: Steve P does not want to be a guru. Refuses the mantle. But he can’t stop helping people ’cause he’s a nice guy. Though try to get him to come speak at your event, fergit it. But people need a Messiah or they don’t know how to find the path. Some of us, though, can look at what Steve or Seth or whoever noticed, notice the same thing, find my own takeaway, and go on to the next thing.

Back to Resistance: We all have things we need to fight, for lack of a better word, every day. Physical health requires abstinence from some things, persistence in others. Mental health. Spiritual health. Avoid some, insist on others.

Our natural state is entropy, not growth. We tend toward being angry selfish lumps on the couch in front of reality TV. It is imperfect human nature, and it is not possible to go the other direction without work. Should we call it “work” or “effort” instead of “fight” or “war”? Okay. It’s terminology. But a spiritual writer I respect more than any person alive today, the apostle Paul, wrote about a “war in his members.” He knew what war and death were, coming from a violent persecutor’s background. He also knew peace, kindness, unselfish principled love, and spent his life until a martyr’s death teaching it and living it. So, if “war” works for him, I don’t argue it.

Am I even coming close to addressing your discomfort with “the war of art” as a term, a concept, whatever? Because I find your question fascinating and well worth discussing.

I highly recommend Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art.

Why Do You Write?

A Long, Hard Look - a Chandleresque cozyPressfield nails it again. Today’s post is about finding why, about asking yourself why you write, what you expect to happen.

And it’s about letting go of the stuff you simply cannot control.

He suggests asking yourself these questions:

  • Was this a worthy effort?
  • Did it call upon you to give more than you believed you had in you?
  • Did you conduct yourself honorably in the enterprise?
  • Did you give it all you had?
  • Did you succeed according to your own standards, the measures that only you know and only you can define?

I intend to market A Long, Hard Look as well as I can.

I intend to accept whatever level of commercial success it achieves, because I can answer “yes” to those 5 questions, and that’s what matters.

Where Do You Get Information and Inspiration?

catching up on our readingReading a couple of Dave Bricker‘s excellent posts and Tom Bentley‘s newsletter I realized I don’t have much of what they used to call a “blogroll” around here. Must attend to that.

Besides Dave’s and Tom’s, the three I drop everything to read the instant there’s something posted are Larry Brooks’ storyfix, Steve Pressfield, and Rosanne Bane’s Bane of Your Resistance which is one of the best blog titles on the web.

In the meantime, tell me: what blogs are on your “must read” list, your “drop everything” list, your “catch up when I have a few minutes” list?

Nice Guys Make Boring Reading

edgesGreat character advice from Steven Pressfield in the form of a question:

“How close are they to the edge?”

When a character teeters on a knife-edge, we can’t take our eyes off them.

My characters feel a bit safe. For my light mysteries, that’s okay. For the deeper Chandleresque cozy I’m working on, Jake needs to be closer to the edge.

But wait and see what “edge” he’s close to.

The Timed-Release Capsule and Growth Through Use; or, Where the Ideas Come From

We ask where great ideas and creativity come from, not because the question itself matters, but because we want to go there in order to find more.

photo http://www.sxc.hu/photo/635810 by OBMonkey http://www.sxc.hu/profile/OBMonkeyReading Steven Pressfield’s take on the question prompted a visceral response with my own beliefs.

We are, in part, Divine, fashioned by a creator to be creators. Thus, creativity is built into us like a time-release capsule.

Except it’s not released by time. You can wait till the cows come home and if you don’t add the activating ingredient to the capsule, it will never release.

… more … “The Timed-Release Capsule and Growth Through Use; or, Where the Ideas Come From”

Writing (and Resistance-Killing) Tips from Jan Rutherford

I met Jan through Seth Godin’s Triiibes network. Jan has finished his book, and wrote a blog post about why it took him over four years. It is a cautionary tale, after which you should go read Steven Pressfield’s “Do the Work.”

Read Jan’s post here: http://janrutherford.com/four-things-i-learned-writing-my-first-book/