What is Resistance?
Steven Pressfield introduced this arch-villain in his book The War of Art in 2002, but it’s been around since the first human being scratched out a message on a cave wall.
Even if you didn’t know its name, you already know what it is. It’s that feeling that keeps you from writing every day, the voice in your head telling you your work is worthless, the debilitating inertia of writer’s block, the internal machine that creates the excuses that keep you from writing. All of that is Resistance.
Being aware of and having a fight plan for Resistance is just as fundamental as knowing how to apply story structure in order to discover and craft the story you need to write.
No matter how good we get at our craft, Resistance is always hanging around, beating us down and distracting us in order to keep us from doing important work.
Plan to fight Resistance every day
Resistance incites its daily battle with you the moment you wake up. We’ve all hit the snooze button on our alarm clock at one time or another to buy nine extra minutes of “rest.” This is Resistance’s first jab of the day, the first of many delay tactics it convinces us to actively accept.
Beat it early. Get up on time. It hates that.
Plan writing time every single day to fight back.
I know it’s hard to imagine adding one more thing to your daily to do list. You might feel that your packed schedule is the thing blocking you from consistently writing in the first place.
That’s Resistance big picture war strategy at work. We’re swamped and we can’t add anything else to our daily agenda.
That mantra is a lie Resistance tells us.
Shine a light on that lie. You do have the time. You know you do. Cut out a half hour of Netflix and you’re home free.
Now simply schedule the time to sit in the chair that rests in front of your writing desk every day. Start with 30 minutes. Even if you just sit at the chair without writing a single word…you’re wearing out the monster. It’s like pledging that you’ll go to the gym every day and just take a shower. You do that a few days in a row; you can’t help but start walking on the treadmill a few minutes before that shower.
Experiment with your schedule to figure out what’s best. I like to do creative work in the morning. You might prefer working in the evening. Whatever. Just schedule the time and sit in the chair.
Think of this applied daily effort like reading a chapter a day of a book. It’s hard to read an entire novel in one sitting. But over time, you chip away at seeing the story through. Eventually, you get to the end.
Another trick is to combine the action with something you already do every day. After you brush your teeth, but before you floss…get in that chair.
Just one sentence fights back Resistance
So you’ve made time in your schedule to start writing. Whether you’re planning your detailed outline or writing whatever comes to mind, you’ve created the time to do it.
This is when Resistance loves to ambush you.
You won’t want to write. You‘ll feel writer’s block. You’ll feel paralyzed by the empty page or the blinking computer cursor.
Resistance’s attack will seem impenetrable. And you’ll feel like a fool just sitting in a chair for a half hour, not doing anything.
So fight it a bit more by writing just one sentence.
It can be about your current project. It can be 20 scenes ahead of where you are in your current project. It can be a sentence you think might be better for five scenes ago. It can be a sentence for an entirely different project.
Just write one sentence.
That may be all you can write for that day. That’s fine.
But I’ve found that writing one sentence will help you to break down Resistance’s attack. One sentence usually leads to another, then another.
Soon, your scheduled writing time is over and you just want to write more. Don’t. Stop at your thirty-minute limit until you feel that desire to keep going seven straight days…then add five minutes more. Repeat.
Resistance demands perfection from the very start…don’t fall for that trap.
Now you might be doing your work every day and the ideas are beginning to flow. You don’t worry about getting sentences down anymore. Excellent!
How does Resistance react to this discipline?
This is when Resistance will tell you that everything you’re writing is terrible. Resistance will tell you to just give up because your writing will never amount to anything. Resistance will demand perfection from each letter you add to your file.
This is Resistance escalating the assault.
Fight this escalation of the battle by giving yourself permission to not be perfect. Just write. Explore what inspiration brings to you.
Some of your ideas won’t work. Some passages will be bad. You’ll probably end up deleting entire pages of work along the way.
Guess what? So does every other writer. All the time. Resistance will lie to you and tell you it’s only you who writes such lousy drafts. Those real writers are much better at it than you are.
That’s rubbish. Real writers know the first draft of anything is vague, poorly constructed, generic, unspecific, cliché…etc.
Bad prose is a natural part of the creative process. No one gets inspired to the degree that a final draft flows with ease at first attempt. No one. By fighting Resistance with daily effort to put words and ideas on the page, you’re delivering the raw materials that can be crafted into a compelling final form. And with each successive project you bring forth from beginning, through the middle and into the end, the better your craft will become.
And over time, this drip, drip, drip effort undermines Resistance’s lies that your work is terrible and worthless. But beware. That sinking feeling that your stuff is irredeemable will never go away. So when you feel it, remind yourself that it’s cool. It’s supposed to be there and press on.
Resistance hates celebration
Writing anything is an enormous task. It requires writing many sentences, hours of deep thinking, and plenty of gut-wrenching revisions and edits.
Seeing this ahead of you, Resistance can make you feel like you can’t take any credit for your work until you have a published novel in your hand that is on top of all of the bestseller lists. And even then it won’t be good enough. Seriously. Resistance is that dark of a force.
Feeling like your work is just never going to be good enough for you can be demoralizing.
That’s just the feeling that Resistance wants you to have. If you beat it once and create a finished work…it doubles down on you for the next one.
What Resistance doesn’t want you to do is realize that the stuff coming out of you is in fact a deeply meaningful expression of your inner genius. Just the act is worth celebrating every step of the way.
So celebrate it. Congratulate yourself every time you move forward in your writing. Maybe it’s after every writing session. Maybe it’s after writing that single sentence. Write it down. Make checkmarks on a calendar. Pat yourself on the back. You deserve it. The work is important.
You don’t need to throw yourself a party or open a bottle of champagne. Keep it simple. Eat a little treat. Do a fist pump at your desk.
Just make an easy way to celebrate the work that you’re doing in your writing. Resistance can’t beat down a little party.
Affirmations preempt Resistance
One way that Resistance likes to bring you down is by convincing you that you can’t and shouldn’t be a writer.
Resistance reminds you that you don’t have an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, that you’re not qualified, and that you shouldn’t bother writing at all.
So sometimes you need a preemptive strike against Resistance.
Affirmations are the best offense. Personal messages to remind yourself of what you want to accomplish and who you want to become day after day after day help you to focus on the work…and punch Resistance right in the gut.
You can write them down every morning or say them to yourself in front of the mirror. Find a quick and easy way to do them that works for you, ideally before you start your daily creative work. Figure out what you aspire to do or become and repeat it to yourself every day.
I tell myself that I know what I’m doing and when I don’t I’ll seek help and figure it out.
I remind myself of the truth…I’m intelligent, competent, persistent and creative. And tell myself that just actively making the decision to fight Resistance will make that day a success. Because of that is true.
Affirmations train your mind to pre-emptively fight back against everything Resistance throws at you. They remind you of what you want to accomplish and beat back Resistance’s offensives.
Each day you do your affirmations, you grow stronger. And no you don’t have to tell anyone about them or perform them in front of your friends and family. In fact they’re even better when you don’t share them with others.
How I learned I could beat Resistance
We never stop fighting Resistance, but we can overwhelm it project by project.
But in my most vulnerable years, I didn’t consider myself naturally talented at anything. I was a shy, chubby kid who liked indoor, solitary activities. Sports weren’t interesting to me and while I got good grades in school, they never came easily.
In high school, I finally found something that stirred my mind, body and soul: Drumline.
I loved playing, performing and competing. It just felt perfect from head to toe. Drumline taught me the thrill of achievement — but also exposed me to Resistance.
Resistance wanted me not to practice. Resistance wanted me to stay home instead of perform. But my body told me the truth. Not working proved more painful than working, and so I met Resistance head on without really understanding its power. I became a better player because I just had to.
Then, in my senior year of college my drumline friends encouraged me to audition for an elite ensemble that I’d never dreamed I’d be good enough to join.
I thought I shouldn’t try. I had a thesis to finish. I needed to think about a post-college job. Full schedule, right?
Resistance’s list went on.
But I couldn’t NOT DO IT. Because drumline was just too important to give up.
And I made the group.
Being in the ensemble was the hardest thing I’d ever done. I sacrificed my evenings and weekends for five months of practicing, rehearsals, and performances.
But our final performance is one of the proudest achievements of my life. Resistance can’t touch it.
You can beat Resistance
The fight against Resistance never ends.
Expect that every day, a newer, meaner, and more tactical Resistance will show up to stop you. It will sling new insults at you, and try to block your thinking and productivity in new ways. It will do everything it can to keep you from doing great work.
But know this…it’s a lie machine.
You can beat it. You have all the tools you need to keep Resistance at bay—reminding yourself of the truth. Welcome Resistance every morning with a sharp punch to the solar plexus as you rise to meet the new morning.
For more about fighting Resistance, I recommend Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art. And if you’re looking for tips to structure your daily writing, I recommend this Story Grid blog post by fellow Story Grid Editor Maya Walker.