The mystery of writing and resistance
“So, how’s the writing going?” my friend asked over lunch.
“I’m working on my novel,” I sighed. “More like getting back to it, I guess. I’m about 2/3rds there. I hit a rough patch but just need to get back to it.”
My voice lacked the enthusiasm you might expect from someone whose work, as my husband describes it, is to “make stuff up.” My tone and mood shifted from happy to heavy, my work-in-progress weighing on my mind and mood.
“Why do you writers do this to yourselves?” he observed. “All my writer friends say the same thing. I ask about their work, and they sigh and tell me how hard it is.”
“Busted!” I laughed and conceded his point.
Still, I couldn’t shake the question: Why do we do this to ourselves?
Lawrence Kasdan, Oscar-nominated screenwriter for The Big Chill and best known as co-writer of The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark, said: “Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.”
Now, there’s someone whose made it. Created a career out of making stuff up. He’s figured out the answer to my friend’s question, right? Staying with a project, keeping his butt in the chair isn’t an issue for him, yes? If I could just get to his place, I tell myself, that’d be great. Instead, his quote relieves and aggravates me – I’m relieved to keep company with a successful writer and aggravated that success doesn’t guarantee against the hard work of showing up at the page.
The famous screenwriter, or Pulitzer-prize winning columnist, and beloved novelist who inspired me to try my hand at this work, all say – after years and years of putting their work into the world and actually making a living doing it – that they still resist doing the work which got them to this level of success in the first place. The same resistance that my friend sees in the writers he knows.
Steven Pressfield has built a big part of his career on dealing with resistance in his seminal work, The War of Art. Resistance is always there, he writes. Do the work anyway. Simple enough. Yet, the question lingers: Why do writers write?
I can’t speak for all of us, but here are some reasons why I write:
• The world needs true and good stories
• The page has saved my life and kept me sane
• People tell me my words have helped them
• Life brings inspiration and ideas that need to be spoken into the world
• Just when I think I might run out of ideas, more show up
I need to remember these reasons every day, no matter the accomplishments of yesterday. The sun rises on new possibilities, and resistance hits the reset button – in fatigue and distraction and hunger and self-doubt – trying to keep my pen from this page. All this is part of the process, challenging and inviting me to push through it, mute the volume on the Inner Critic, and just get started. I’ll write a word after a word after a word and see what shows up. My first work is managing the resistance. Once I do that, the rest falls into place.
So, my fellow writers and creatives, what keeps you going? How do you deal with resistance?
Your sketch above strikes to the heart of the problem. You say it quite well.
I’ll add this. Kurt Vonnegut described his approach to the silent pages as a way to overcome a handicap. “When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.” I think his advice here is that most writers begin with far more advantages. Just stay with your writing, keep typing, and stay committed.
Funny you mention Vonnegut, I just watched this video of him on the Shape of Stories: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oP3c1h8v2ZQ
I agree…it’s all about staying with it, showing up at the page, and following through on the commitment.
Great post Maria..as us writers know and you eloquently point out..it can be really hard to keep going when you feel like the work is stagnating, boring, mediocre, or just downright bad. I was just talking to a friend of mine who is working on a writing project and she was saying how bad her writing is..well. That’s just it..everyone’s (including Kasdan’s, I’d wager) is bad at the first draft and over a few more drafts. The mark of the writer who turns out to be great is the diligence required to come back to the page time and time again to revisit, revise, hone and shape..We should all keep a list of why we write next to our computer for when those pesky demons start whispering in our ear. Thank you!
You’re so right! And we’re far harder on our work than we need to be. The first draft or two will be rough. This is where I’m so very grateful for the wonderful editors I’ve worked with who helped shape my work. I was standing too close by then to make sense of it anymore. I’ve learned so much from some terrific editors!
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