Resistance is Not Your Enemy

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Resistance is not your Enemy. Your life is not a War story where you must go into battle and have the courage to overthrow Resistance.

Resistance is not your Opponent. Your life is not a Performance story where in order to avoid shame, you must stop being lazy and work harder than Resistance.

Resistance is not the Villain. Your life is not an Action story where you are at its mercy and must vanquish Resistance.

Resistance is your Friend. Your life is a Love story and the person you need to listen to and love the most is YOU. Resistance is only there to remind you.

We Tell Ourselves Lies

I had been telling myself a lie. One you may be familiar with:

I can’t write this story. I’m not good enough.

When I would attempt to revise my novel a feeling enveloped my body and strangled my mind. This cloud of self-doubt, stress, confusion, and dread overwhelmed every thought or idea.

The Resistance was so fierce I could not move forward despite my commitment and desire to write.

For the longest time I thought something was “wrong” with me.

Was I not smart enough to be a writer? Not creative enough?

Was writing a novel something only certain special people were capable of, and an unreachable dream for me?

I’ve written first drafts of three screenplays, two novels and am turning one of them into a six-book series. In spite of all the words and pages, I grappled with this internal battle every day. I feared that my stories would never be finished and sent into the world.

I Learned to Ignore Resistance in a First Draft

My writing journey began almost ten years ago. Even back then, my desire to tell stories was enormous yet I felt blocked before my pen even started moving.

And then, I found an amazing writing mentor (and now, a friend) who taught me how to allow a first draft to flow. In the Laguna Writers workshop in San Francisco, Chris Delorenzo guided us, “We’re going to write for 20 mins. Anything that comes to mind. Don’t edit yourself. See what comes out. Turn the critic off.”

He gave me permission to ignore that voice that said I was “wrong” and allow my first draft to flow exactly as it came out. And it worked. I would feel my imagination flooding, my hand cramping, my heart beating full of the adrenaline of writing what I saw in my head.

I loved unleashing my stories!

And then Resistance Returned

Writing first drafts became fun. But in order to make a story better, revision is essential. And that’s when it would be waiting for me.

At first, I would change sentences around, write additional scenes that probably weren’t essential, try to “figure things out” and then I’d feel lost. My anxiety mounted consuming every thought and I would be stuck for weeks, months and even years. No longer writing a first draft, my inner critic had the right to say all kinds of nasty things because now I was supposed to know the story and know what to do to make it right. Yet, I didn’t.

When I came across The Story Grid, I felt like I had won the lottery. I could tell right away that Shawn knew story. His explanations clarified so much confusion for me. And he gave me steps for moving drafts forward.

And yet…I still butted up against Resistance. Over and over and over. The same old feelings of not being good enough or creative enough surfaced. The belief that I was never going to finish these stories was proving to be true.

I sought answers from every writer I knew, every book I could find, every class I could take, every tool anyone suggested. I fought hard. But each time Resistance won, I became frustrated, anxious and depressed.

I really wasn’t good enough. How could I possibly revise my stories when I couldn’t even get myself to write?

If I really was meant to tell these stories, why was it so hard?

I battled Resistance for a very, very long time. It was exhausting. I finally decided to take a break from writing. If I was ever going to move past it, I had to look deeper into what my Resistance actually was.

What I Learned About Resistance

When I stopped pushing my Resistance away, I was able to look at it more closely. Believing my revision ideas were “wrong” and “not good enough” to finish my book wasn’t a new thought for me and wasn’t specific to writing.

Despite being an outgoing person, off and on I had a lifetime of discomfort around others and anxiety when playing sports, performing in theater, or doing anything that required learning a skill and doing it “right.” That feeling of “not good enough” showed up everywhere.

    Where did that notion of not being good enough come from?

As children, we rely on others to take care of us and keep us safe. Thoughts, beliefs and our way of relating to the world are passed down by our parents some of which is inherited from a long line of others who came before us. Of course, our parents are usually trying to protect us. But we’re hit over the head with their expectations rather than being encouraged self-exploration and self-reliance.

I was raised in a very conservative, religious family and the messages passed on to me were based on a very black and white, right and wrong belief system.

At a very young age, I learned the rules so well, I made sure everything I did in front of them was “right.” My parents probably thought they were protecting me and just passing on to me what they were also taught.

I love my parents but somewhere in me I knew some of their beliefs didn’t quite fit me, yet I had to hide my truth. This learned behavior sent mixed signals to my developing brain because I had to stop following my natural flow of saying what I thought and being who I was.

I might have looked fine from the outside but inside I was in pain. It led me not only to keep my thoughts and feelings to myself but also to forget I even had them. This created a very long-term pattern in my mind that told me I had the “wrong” answers.

As I grew up, in most everything I did, I felt unsafe to do things my own way. Since I didn’t know how to ask myself what I thought or felt, I had to look to others and mimic their beliefs and actions.

Resistance is a Message

It was a long, uncomfortable road to my big realization.

When you can’t even fathom what you think or feel and are put into situations where you need to know, your body will speak up by telling you something is wrong. For me, this showed up as insecurity, anxiety and depression. Those same physical symptoms would arrive when I would try to revise.

Timers, inspirational books, manuscript groups and The Story Grid gave me a strong support system, but they were tools I wasn’t yet able to use to my full advantage. They would even amplify my anxiety and Resistance.

When I had finally seen no other answers, I asked myself,

What is Resistance?

I am not resisting doing the work. I am not resisting writing the type of story I want to tell.

So, what am I resisting?

The big realization came pouring out while talking with two very different friends. I had been hiding a huge part of myself all these years because I was terrified to fully be ME.

I was resisting MYSELF because I was afraid of my own answers to questions, my own way of doing things, and sharing my fullest, truest self.

Why? Because I had learned from birth that it was not “right” to be my fullest, truest self.

In that moment of realization, Resistance smiled. I had finally understood its purpose. My understanding of Resistance ramped up very quickly once I saw it for what it was and why it was there.

The world and people you come into contact with are a mirror for your actions and behavior. So it doesn’t surprise me now that the same message started popping up everywhere around me.

The theme of my Middle Grade fantasy series is “Be True to Yourself,” which is now something I try to do every day. I recently asked Shawn a question, and after sharing his story knowledge, he told me to “trust myself.”

Later, I was talking with a friend who asked me if I ever meditated. When I shrugged it off, she suggested a different type of meditation where instead of quieting your mind of all thoughts, you ask yourself questions and listen for the answers.

Because the whispers that show up are YOU guiding YOU.

And even when I look back to my first writing mentor Chris, his first draft guidance gave me the permission I desperately needed. His encouragement allowed me to write whatever came to mind, even if it was literally “I don’t know what to write.”

As a child, I had learned to protect myself in the world by hiding my true self. But I no longer needed to because I was safe with ME.

It turns out Resistance was never my Enemy.

It didn’t want or need to be defeated. Resistance was signaling a deeper problem. Resistance actually cared about me and had been trying to get my attention all along, we just spoke opposing languages.

Its translated message was this: I have all the answers if I am willing to listen.

Listen to Resistance

Maybe you can push out a blog post or force yourself to write for ten minutes, maybe you can even get through a first draft, but the momentum you gain will likely be temporary until you get to the core of what is keeping you from writing.

You know you want to do the work. You know you want to write. There is no need to compare yourself to others or try to do what someone else would do.

Resistance is not your enemy. You don’t need to use brute force to battle, beat or out perform it.

If you feel blocked, stuck, anxious, or depressed, it’s because there is something in you calling out and you’re not listening.

Resistance is just trying to get your attention.

It’s not the writer in you that is stuck. It is the YOU in YOU that wants to say something in the way that is true for you.

You cannot force your story. You must listen, without judgement, and allow it to flow.

The Negative Side of Not Listening

If everything I’ve written doesn’t motivate you enough, here’s the ugly side of Resistance. If you don’t listen to your own voice, Resistance will get LOUDER.

You may experience anger, depression or anxiety. When you don’t honor that voice inside, the result is punishing not only to yourself, but to those around you.

So many people hate their jobs but don’t quit, don’t want to get married or have kids, but do those things anyway because the message has been passed down that those are the “right” things to do. But what ends up happening?

They get fired from the job they spent 20 years in and hated in the first place. Their marriage ends in infidelity and divorce because they ignored that voice telling them that this wasn’t the right person from the start. They end up having no relationship with their grown children because they were physically or emotionally absent parents.

When you feel resistant to something, some part of you knows it’s not right for you. When you ignore Resistance’s call, you hurt yourself and those around you.

Our society has not yet fully supported or valued the idea of living the life you want to live—the life that feels most aligned with what you feel.

But you cannot let that stop you.

What does this have to do with writing?

Trying to write a perfect story, thinking your ideas aren’t good enough, allowing yourself to be distracted by everything but writing, comparing yourself to the writers you admire, or other forms of Resistance all go back to one problem: judging your ideas as not “right” or not “good enough” makes you stop honoring that voice inside that knows what you want to say.

Listening Takes Practice

Rewiring your brain and your way of thinking is possible. You must relearn what Resistance is and what it is showing you.

Your voice is waiting to guide you

Even if the volume is low, if you stop and listen to even the simplest things like “Do you want chocolate or vanilla ice cream today?” If the tiniest most quiet voice in you whispers “chocolate” but you grab the vanilla because your partner prefers it, you are likely going to be disappointed and maybe even resentful. You might even blame your partner when you actually made the choice to go against yourself. But if you grab chocolate, even if it doesn’t turn out to be the best ice cream in the world, at least you followed your inner voice.

Your voice will grow louder

When you sit down to write and you bump into Resistance, thank it for its care and love for you, and remember that it’s reminding you to stop forcing your story and to listen instead. The more you listen and respond to your voice’s wishes, the louder it will grow.

Who knows what you will tell yourself?

You may discover a new part of your story or you might tell yourself to go swimming, which seems completely unrelated. As long as you are listening to what feels right in that moment and are not running away from your writing, then Resistance will have guided you to take care of yourself. And you never know what will happen when you listen. Maybe during that swim break you end up meeting someone who turns out to be a book agent.

Then Turn to the Tools

Even if you can’t quite hear that voice inside, keep practicing. Reminding yourself that your voice is there to guide you takes repetition.

The tools are all there waiting for you. Whether you write for a specific amount of time, take a writing class, or even work with a Story Grid editor, just be sure to listen to yourself and choose the tool that feels right for YOU and not for someone else.

And each time you choose a tool, go slowly. Listen to the answers that arise for you, even if they don’t make sense in that moment. Trust that they are right.

If Resistance shows up, it is just telling you to pay attention and listen to what you want to say.

Your Stories Are Needed

It can be challenging not to compare ourselves to “successful” writers. Many writers are inspired by J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. I have driven myself into maddened frenzies wanting to write stories as good as hers. But I know that I will never be able to write her stories because I am not her.

The even more amazing thing is: She could never in a million years write my stories. Because she is not me.

No one in the world or in the history of time will ever be you. We are our own selves, created by our own experiences in life. And our one of a kind perspectives come out in our stories.

You never know if your story could open someone’s perspective or even save someone’s life. But if you keep it inside you, then your voice will be missing from the world.

The universe needs YOUR story, just like it needs mine.

Resistance Actually Cares

I still experience Resistance here and there, but now, instead of being afraid, I pay attention because I know it’s reminding me to write what I want to say.

Resistance hung out a little while I was writing this. But instead of thinking I needed to write it the way someone else would, then swirling into anxiety and getting stuck, I was gently nudged  to keep asking myself:

“What do I truly want to say?”

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Courtney Harrell