This week, I’ve been reflecting on the ways that I see authors sometimes choosing Resistance. If you remember from Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, Resistance is anything and everything that gets in the way of us doing our work. Usually, we talk about Resistance as a force outside of us, something that happens to us. We say it’s our kids, our jobs, our money (or lack thereof). But Pressfield says,
Resistance is not a peripheral opponent. Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.
And, unfortunately, I see a lot of writers giving in to this Resistance inside themselves. They say they want to write a book, but their actions say otherwise.
Here’s what I see:
One would-be author has been telling me literally for years that she’s just about ready to start writing her book. She’s even scheduled coaching calls with me a handful of times, but she always cancels them again. She’s traveling, she’s speaking, she’s having surgery, her kids are busy—she always needs to wait for this one thing to be over, and then she’ll be ready. I’m still here for her. I’ll be ready when she’s ready—and so will her book.
Last year, I met with a fellow writing coach to ask her some questions about business. I was feeling stuck, and I was hoping she could give me some direction, show me a path with steps that I could follow to be happy and successful in this industry. She asked me what my goals were, what I really wanted to do.
“I don’t know,” I told her, dancing around a couple vague ideas. “There are so many options. It’s all really confusing.”
“Do you really not know?” she asked. “Or are you choosing to be confused because to do what you want would be hard and scary?”
Well, dang. I was just asking you for some tips, lady. We just met. Settle down.
I realized, though, that I do this when I’m scared—especially when I feel like I might fail at something that I want to try. Instead of trying, I choose to be “confused,” to be not quite sure that I want to do it in the first place. I did this with ghostwriting. For over a year, I put off ghostwriting, even when I had some opportunities to do it. I said no because I wasn’t sure that I would be any good at it. To be honest, there are days that I’m still not sure. But I know that I’m getting better.
Am I choosing to be confused? Has become one of the best questions I’ve learned to ask myself.
Steven Pressfield writes,
“Resistance loves ‘healing.’ Resistance knows that the more psychic energy we expend dredging and re-dredging the tired, boring injustices of our personal lives, the less juice we have to do our work.”
Whew. This is a hard one, because sometimes writing can be re-traumatizing, and it is better to have healed from wounds if you’re going to try writing about them (for an audience). But Pressfield is saying that healing itself can become a delay tactic.
Besides, as my friend Allison Fallon writes in her book The Power of Writing It Down, writing is a path to healing. You heal by doing the work.
By the time one of my clients came to me, she’d worked with at least two other book coaches (that I knew of), had been to multiple writing retreats with various expert editors, and was taking an online writing course from another bestselling author. She’d been working on her book for over ten years at this point, and she seemed almost hopeless that it could actually be brought to completion. She never felt like she knew enough about writing books to start writing her own book.
I fall into this trap often too. Did you know that for over a year now, I’ve been tinkering around with a book idea on self-efficacy for writers? I have outlines upon outlines, and yet I keep telling myself, “I need to read all of Bandura’s work first. I need to read all of these biographies of writers to see how they built up the self-efficacy to start writing.” In reality, I don’t need to do all of that.
Telling yourself that you need to keep learning or keep researching can become its own form of productive procrastination.
Don’t get me wrong—validation is important. But this need becomes crippling for some people. They bounce from coach to coach, from writing group to writing group, from peer to peer, even emailing their author heroes to ask them if they have a good idea. What’s crazy is that these writers do receive the validation they’re looking for. Everyone tells them, over and over again, that they should do it. But it’s not enough. They don’t believe them.
There is such a thing as the right timing for publishing, or for pursuing publication. (That’s a topic for another week!) But there is no such thing as the right time to write. You can write at any time. It will never be a bad time to write.
So what’s the answer? How do you overcome these common pitfalls of Resistance?
Recognize that you have a choice here. Look at the things you “have” to do and figure out what doesn’t actually “have” to happen. Break your goal down into small steps. Can you make a book map or an outline? Can you free write for 10 minutes about your book idea? Space is available for those who choose it.
You don’t have to commit to doing something forever. Your dream of writing a book isn’t do or die. Try it out. You might not even like writing! And that would be totally ok. But you will never know if you don’t try.
Go read Ally Fallon’s book, The Power of Writing It Down (here’s the link to my review of it). Ally draws on the research of James Pennebaker, who studied the effects of writing on our emotions. It turns out that “writing for as little as twenty minutes a day for as little as four days in a row can cause a measurable improvement in your mood” (Fallon, p. 19). There is so much possibility waiting for you in writing!
This year, I’ve been ghostwriting a book on preventive cardiology—like, how to prevent heart disease. Did I know a single thing about heart disease before starting this project? Absolutely not. But I knew I would learn. This is the approach I’m now taking with my self-efficacy book as well. I’m figuring it out as I go, and you can do the same.
Get honest with yourself about why you need more validation. What are you afraid of? How can you give this validation to yourself? How can you find more freedom within yourself—freedom to fail, freedom to make mistakes, freedom to get better?
There’s no doubt that this is hard, scary work. But everyone starts off this way. Everyone experiences these same battles with Resistance. You have it within you to fight and win.