Steven Pressfield wrote The War of Art for writers like me. And probably for you too, depending on where you are with your writing. I’m guessing that from time to time you find yourself with an idea or a phrase or even a color that just keeps floating somewhere at the very edge of your peripheral vision. Turn your head and it’s gone. You can’t look at it straight on. You have to sit down and write it (or paint, photograph, sculpt, weave, cook, play or sketch it). Sometimes these little snatches don’t yield much or don’t seem to have a lot substance initially. But creativity is mysterious so a few lines scratched out on a Monday afternoon four years ago could end up becoming a much bigger idea when you least expect it. You just never know. It’s worth it to get stuff down.
This is where I start hearing Pressfield whispering in my ear. He’s agreeing. Write it down, my dear. Sit down at your desk. I’m game. Only I have to return Zoe’s phone call first and there are two emails I really have get off. It’s also time for more coffee and look! the cats are out of water.
That little floater of an idea exits my field of vision. Meandering over to some other more deserving poet or something like that. But I spend some time that same evening reading. Right now I’m loving Stephen Dunn’s work. And there’s something new that occurs to me. But maybe it’s a dumb idea. Maybe I’ll think about it for a bit. Let me get a glass of wine. Read a little more and see what….Suddenly, Pressfield leaps into my living room. He’s wielding one of those fat, curved Samurai/pirate looking swords. He jumps into the middle of the room, sword raised over his head, teeth bared. Yeah, he’s scary. You’re going to write, he growls. And you’re going to do it now. Stop with the damn excuses. Stop resisting.
Pressfield is busier than the tooth fairy. There are a lot writers struggling with their own resistance. I’ve even known writers who take on other people’s resistance just to absolutely insure that they don’t write. I’m grateful to him for helping me cut through my defenses, which are particularly strong lately.
I read The War of Art a few years ago because my friend Tatiana made me promise that I would. We had a good talk about how ittle credence we give self-help books, but Pressfield’s book really isn’t that. I was skeptical, but it was Tatiana so I agreed to read it. It didn’t change my life. But it was a good read. Interesting.
Now I’m at a point in my life where I really need Pressfield’s wisdom. I need to be reminded of how huge Resistance can be and that it doesn’t have to win. I need to remember that underneath Resistance is Fear. At least it’s that way for me. Fear of failure. Maybe even fear of success, but I don’t really understand that one.
Yesterday I ended up in a heated discussion with a friend who was trying to be encouraging. Actually I was overheated, not my friend. Words, words, words, I said with force. All words about my writing, how much I’ve grown, how good I am. But I’ve never worked up to my potential.
My second grade teacher pointed out on my report card so many years ago that I was bright and a good student, but prone to daydreaming and didn’t work up to my potential. Some might say this the mark of a writer. I say bullshit. Or at the very least, that’s not an excuse. I spend a lot of time beating myself up for all I am not, for all I haven’t accomplished. At times, it has occurred to me to blame Mrs. Deutz for setting me up when I was 7, but that’s probably neither accurate nor helpful.
As I stormed and blustered around the living room wielding my sword of self-castigation, it occurred to me that berating myself wasn’t writing. That picking at my faults, creating scroll-length lists of all the things I haven’t done and wishing I were someone else or just different were also Not Writing. It struck me that there’s a certain theme here. A certain convenience in a way. I keep me in my place. It can be quite a small place and the closest thing to a cushion is Fear. It’s not comfortable, but it is familiar.
Beating myself up keeps me from writing. It is as Pressfield would say, a form of Resistance. I’ll add that it’s bullshit. I don’t want to do it anymore. First step–Sitting down thing this morning and writing this post.