How To Overcome Creative Resistance


This is a hard blog to write.

There. I said it. Even as I sit here, trying to conjure the right words in my head, I’m thinking of appropriate titles for this post, instead of actually writing it. Why am I doing this?

Because of Resistance.

What is Resistance?

I have this image in my head of what Creative Resistance looks like. It’s a combination of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Dante’s Satan. A beast, that would put even Beauty’s boyfriend to shame. I know its face. It stands with me at the sink every morning and stares at me in the mirror while I brush my teeth. It sits patiently beside me all day while I work through client issues so I can avoid dealing with it. I shun it and ignore it, treating it more like chronic recurring tendonitis than an actual problem to solve. I let it be, in hopes it will go away.

It never does.

Instead, I feed it three square meals a day. It prefers Self-doubt and Fear because they taste the best, but it’s just as happy with Procrastination. Anything that gives it the energy it needs to thrive, will do. On the bad days, I reach inside to give it everything I have, and it pulls it out of me like a magician pulls scarves out of his sleeves, sewing them together to make something only we can understand.

As Steven Pressfield says in his book, The War of Art,

“Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated.

Resistance is the enemy within.”

And it is. I’ve seen the harm it can do. I’ve seen the way it can paralyze the creative flow by perpetuating the lie that you’ll never actually be able to achieve your full potential. It holds you down, even when you know you should be flying, and it rationalizes doing so by convincing you it’s better to be comfortable than uncomfortable.

My friends, I say this from experience. There is no greater disappointment in life than disappointing yourself, and no greater heartache in our creative lives than the regret of letting Resistance win.

Creative resistance is a bully. Just like any bully who accosts you on the playground and demands your lunch money, you can only avoid him for so long. The only way to truly get him to back down is to confront him, to stand up for yourself so he has no choice but to retreat to his cage with his tail between his legs.

Beating Resistance

1. Give it a name

Well, not a name, exactly. I haven’t officially named my beastly friend, but I still acknowledge its existence. Until I read Pressfield’s book, I didn’t understand the constant tug in my belly, the extreme dissatisfaction I felt waking up some mornings or my despondency when I skipped a day of writing.

I believe that naming something (literally or figuratively) can ultimately give it less power. Like Muhammad Ali once famously said, “You can’t hit what your eyes don’t see.” If you can’t define it, you can’t fight it. Once you know what you’re up against, you can move forward.

2. Get out of your own way

In other words, get moving. Pressfield says,

“When we make a beginning, we get out of our own way

and allow the angels to come in and do their job.”

Superstition doesn’t always turn me on but, as a creative, I’ve learned not to ignore signs. Literally. One wet, rainy day ten years ago, I was on a train commuting home from work when I saw a billboard across the tracks that read, “Tell Your Story.” The next day, I picked up a copy of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and started my creative journey.

Need more proof?

I recently began writing an intimate scene between two characters in my current work in progress. As a romance writer, I’ve written scenes like this before, but this one is pivotal. It’s a flashback scene where the heroine, the younger sister of the hero’s best friend, and the hero himself come together for the first time.

Until then, I’d been on a roll for weeks, but suddenly all my progress came to a screeching halt.   The pain of trying to eke out 2,000 words was excruciating. I wrote and rewrote, but nothing felt right. Fear and self-doubt crept in, and I spent several days sitting with my beast on a lounge chair by the pool, drinking margaritas and scrolling through social media.

And then one morning, I got this overwhelming urge to journal. I’m not really a journaler. I mean, I followed Cameron’s advice for a while and tried morning pages but, these days I journal to purge, to weed the garden so something worth a damn can actually grow.

I did not want to journal. Journaling would not help me stay focused on my task which was, to produce. I couldn’t waste my time on unimportant words when the important ones were waiting to be written.

So, I didn’t.

I ignored the call and, unsurprisingly, struggled through another session. The next morning, tea in hand, I stomped upstairs to my office, threw open my closet door and grabbed my journal from the top shelf.

Then I began.

My first page was word vomit. On page three, I returned to my scene. By page six I’d written a rough, but editable draft I could work with.

All this to say, if the Muse is trying to reach you, it’s probably a good idea to pick up the phone.

3. Get serious

Become master of the grind. The stronger our love for our creative projects, the stronger our Resistance. Keep going. Face it head-on.

Do the work.

Even if the Muse hadn’t graced me with her presence last week, I would have kept at it. Why? Because, as Pressfield states:

“The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.”

And anyway, what’s the alternative? Fearing success or failure so much that I stop creating altogether? If the only way out is through, then hand me a backpack and a flashlight. I’m goin’ in. And if I happen to encounter a few monsters along the way then, so be it. I know how to fight them now. I’ll be fine. In fact, I’ll be better than fine.

I’ll be a writer.

xo,

K

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