You might recognize this feeling I’ve been having. The summer is ending and I am completely unmoored from my writing routine. My own reason is specific to the work-at-home mom whose kids are there all summer and who gets hammered with freelance work, but really, all of our reasons are the same. Life gets in the way. Girl, interrupted. The writing muscle has begun to atrophy at the same time that the stories and urges to write continue. All of this goes on until I have quite literally made myself sick from not writing.
That’s where I was a couple of days ago — knowing I needed to write, not knowing how to restart, or perhaps, not remembering. Deadlines help, sure. Nothing like a looming deadline to get those juices flowing again. But the actual sitting down, butt-in-chair, we-all-know-the-answer-but-why-is-it-so-hard problem that writers seem to have, this struggle is real. Depending how long it’s been since you stopped, depending on what big project you’ve left unfinished, depending on how your life have changed in the interim — indeed, how you have changed — all of these things can lead up to resistance to the work.
This is what works for me: Reading Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, specifically, the first section, on resistance.
If you read books on writing because of, or even instead of writing, this one will feel different, like Cher slapping you in the face and yelling: “Snap out of it!” It is a kick in the creative pants every single time — short texts on the very questions artists grapple with every time they decide to do something else instead of doing their art. It’s a rallying cry to ignore all of the bright shiny things that distract us from pursuing something in our lives that might actually MEAN something.
Here’s one of my favorite paragraphs:
“As artists and professionals it is our obligation to enact our own internal revolution, a private insurrection inside our own skulls. In this uprising we free ourselves from the tyranny of consumer culture. We overthrow the programming of advertising, movies, video games, magazines, TV and MTV by which we have been hypnotized from the cradle. We unplug ourselves from the grid by recognizing that we will never cure our restlessness by contributing our disposable income to the bottom line of Bullshit, Inc., but only by doing our work. — Steven Pressfield
Most of this book is not about “F the Man, do your art,” or anything so simplistic. It seeks to define resistance as an evil force in the artist’s life and remind the reader whey s/he creates the work in the first place. There are some sections of the book that even trouble me, like when Pressfield chalks up all manner of mental illness to not doing the work and succumbing to resistance.
Then again, didn’t I just say I was making myself sick by not writing?
Part of creative practice is figuring out what it is that you need to do to move beyond it, your own particular special sauce that makes it all more palatable until you are back in the chair again. For my friend Stephanie Lenox, a poet, she actually runs a group called “Butt In Chair” (after Anne Lamott’s maxim), which is intended to establish the bare minimum a creative person needs to actually create work. (I suggested she write to the BIC company to see if she could get sponsorship. Brilliant, no?).
But Butt-In-Chair doesn’t work for everybody. It doesn’t work for me. Honestly, sometimes my hips hurt from sitting and the last thing I want to do is sit.
So reading The War of Art is my go-to every time. I make a giant cup of coffee (alone not enough to combat resistance, I am sad to report), curl up with Steven Pressfield, and remind myself to let go of the shame of what I haven’t accomplished and get back to business.
I am three days in now of this routine. There will come a day, soon, when I won’t need to re-read these pages to start writing, I’ll just write because I’ve been writing and that’s all my body wants to do.
I wish you the same — to discover the routine that allows you to slip back into your practice with the least amount of resistance possible.
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