What is resistance? Are you a victim of it? Probably!
The term “Resistance” was first coined by Steven Pressfield in his book, The War of Art.
To Pressfield, Resistance is an external entity against whom artists must wage war to win at the game of writing. For him, Resistance always has a capital “R”. As I will explain later, for me, resistance is a lowercase entity.
Another name for resistance is that all time favourite, procrastination.
Everyone procrastinates. There are psychological and survival instincts that make procrastination very easy to fall into. We tend to favour the easier path and the known paths, over high risk or strange–to–us routes.
Many people mislabel procrastination and giving in to resistance as “lacking discipline.” However, discipline has very little to do with it and I believe that sometimes, being highly disciplined can actually work against you.
Resistance, then, is whatever stops you from doing what you’re supposed to be doing, at the time you’re supposed to be doing it.
My own battle with resistance.
All of this post, and most of this blog site, pull from my personal experiences with resistance and discipline, and the desire to write more. I have been researching and reading about all three for a very long time.
I started early. When I was a child, I spent every spare moment with my nose buried in a book. To my non-literary family, I appeared to avoid physical exercise. I actively resisted anything that might take me away from reading.
It was probably inevitable that I be labelled as “lazy”. Unfortunately, the label was applied when I was young and impressionable. Because I didn’t know any better, I accepted the label, and subtly adjusted my behaviour to meet that expectation.
Once I figured out what was going on (and that took a few years!), I worked to overcome the mental conditioning, and lay down a different interpretation of how I approached work. I have struggled to overcome the “lazy” label my entire life.
I consider myself highly efficient, and relatively disciplined, but procrastination still grabs me when I least expect it.
My favourite form of procrastination is a highly creative one. For a long time I didn’t recognize it for what it was. I am always snared by shiny objects. In my case, the shiny object usually has something to do with discipline, work habits, prolificacy, or ways to improve my writing. In other words, learning how to avoid procrastination is how I procrastinate! Often, the lure of a new application, or high-tech gadgets, or a new book that promises to fix all my problems, is enough to send me down a rabbit hole, and writing gets left behind.
Thankfully, in the last few years I have learned to recognize when I am diving down that rabbit hole. I have managed to pull myself back at the very brink, more and more often.
Once you become aware of them, you will recognize your own patterns of resistance and procrastination, and how you tend to avoid what you perceive as the hard work of writing.
What Happens When Resistance Wins
The very least thing that happens when you give in to resistance is that a small chip is gouged out of your psyche.
Worse, your self talk turns to the negative. I don’t know about you, but when I slip, I rail at myself and say the foul things I would not put up with from anyone else.
Unfortunately, that self talk reinforces your belief that you are not disciplined, or that you are a failure, and all the other messages you give yourself.
On a practical level, every time you give in to resistance, you fall a little bit more behind on your schedule. You will get the point where you believe you cannot catch up, and you give up. Your choices then are bleak. The most positive one is to wipe out all your expectations, plans and promises, reset, and start again.
However, starting again, as much of a relief as it seems to be at the time, digs an even deeper trench in your psyche. It’s quite likely, too, that you will let people down when you reset. Promises you have made, often to readers, will fail to be met. That knowledge will linger in the back of your mind.
The worst thing about giving in to resistance is that it reinforces the pattern. It makes it more likely you will give in to resistance next time.
Because the human animal tends to prefer the known path, when you come to the beginning of your next writing session, your subconscious will remember that last time, you chose to do something else. It will also tell you that there were no major consequences to giving in and, after all, there is always tomorrow.
Because writing is a solitary activity, and you don’t have an employer to whom you are accountable, there really are no short-term consequences to not writing when you should. That makes it far easier to put it off until tomorrow.
Ultimately, though, giving in to resistance wears away at your self-esteem, in a reinforcing loop that is difficult to jolt yourself out of.
Breaking that reinforcing cycle is possible, though.
Surprisingly, it isn’t as difficult as you think. All it takes, most often, is a change of mind. But I’ll get to that.
This will be a six part series of posts, and I will cover each strategy in the next five posts.
Are They Effective?
As I mentioned above, these are all tools and strategies that I have used myself.
I have been writing full-time for close to three years. Before that, I wrote professionally while holding down a day job for 16 years. In that time, I wrote and published 35 books via traditional publishers. Since 2011 I have republished all 35, and published an additional 72 titles. On top of that, I have another five full length novels that have already been written and are in production, being prepared for release. I am three quarters of the way through a sixth novel.
My last year of writing while working full-time, I wrote and published 16 titles. Having a day job is not the impediment it seems to be. There are ways to work around it.
I currently write, produce and publish a book every four weeks. I do all my own marketing, production and formatting, including the print editions. I run a very busy newsletter, four websites that all have blogs, and I’m developing a pen name.
My usual work day starts at 6:30 AM, and I write until noon. In the afternoon I do everything else that the indie writing business requires. When I am behind schedule, I will use the evenings, too. I work six days a week, and I take Sundays off.
That is my usual schedule. However, because I still sometimes give in to resistance, and dive down a shining object rabbit hole, I often find myself having to catch up.
I do catch up, though.
Please note, I am talking about those times when, for whatever reason — no matter how pathetic — I choose to not write, and to do something else that appears to be more pleasant.
There are days and periods when I have suffered through life rolls, just like the rest of us. Lately, it has been computer issues that have dug a hole in my production schedule.
I am not talking about life rolls when I talk about giving into resistance. Life chucks things at you. It does it to all of us. You have to deal with those things, usually right now. Life rolls that keep us from our keyboards is not the subject of this discussion.
The trick to resistance is not to eliminate it, but to minimize it. You will never be perfect, and shouldn’t try to be. It is not possible to eliminate all resistance and to write like a machine.
As you learn more about yourself and your writing habits, though, you can reduce the number of times you do give in to resistance, and the effectiveness of your writing practice will increase as a result.
There is no end goal here. You should aim merely to improve each day. The Japanese call this Kaizen. Consistent small improvements on a daily basis mean that you are not sliding backwards. And over time those small, consistent improvements add up to huge change.
Next week, I will start with the first strategy: Mindset.