Miserable, this past September, I perused Twitter in search of relief. And found it. Steven Pressfield was guest author for a literary chat called LitChat. Wow! Steven Pressfield, author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, Last of the Amazons, Tides of War, Gates of Fire, The Virtues of War, but also a jewel of a book I’d not yet discovered,The War of Art.
Writers on Twitter questioned Pressfield for an hour. I managed to contribute a tweet or two, but awestruck, I froze up. Fortunately, other writers had their wits about them and asked excellent questions. And the author’s answers cut to the core of my suffering. A former Marine, he said his service “taught him to be miserable—a crucial skill for a writer. Seriously, not to complain but to keep doing it.”
I’d been complaining to my husband for weeks. Maybe I better just shut up and get back to work. Good advice. And wouldn’t that make my husband happy. And then Pressfield explained Resistance, the subject of The War of Art: “Resistance is that negative force that tries to stop us from doing what we know we should—write, work out, etc.” Bingo! My problem exactly.
In misery, I’d found so many excuses not to write: I’m out of ideas; I don’t feel well (four rounds of antibiotics, two cortisone shots, and I was still sick). I’m in menopause and about to turn 54. Yikes! My pity pot was endless. Okay, so I’m not in the Marines. I’m not sitting in a foxhole, in the rain, dodging bullets. I have a chronic sinus infection for goodness sakes. I’m running out of hormones.
But illness was not the enemy. Resistance was the enemy and had found a petri dish to blossom in my neurotic thinking. As soon as LitChat concluded, I ordered The War of Art. Overnight delivery, please. This was an emergency. By the next day, I was armed with a Pressfield paperback and found more on the subject of art and misery and even the Marines. Pressfield writes:
The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.
The artist must be like that Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any other soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.
Hell, indeed. But so far so good, I had the misery part covered. Reading further, Pressfield named my enemy: Resistance. But he did more than name it. He defined its insidious personality, its wily disguises, its teaching abilities. That’s right, teaching abilities. Because the news here is not all bad, the infallible enemy is also a teacher:
Like a magnetized needle floating on a surface of oil, Resistance will unfailingly point to true North—meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing.
We can use this. We can use it as a compass. We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or action that we must follow before all others.
Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.
Well, my current memoir collaboration must be aligned with the stars. Never in my life have I battled such Resistance. And for anyone who’s in the midst of her own battle, who struggles to get down to work, doubts she is good enough, blows her nose a lot and stares blankly at a computer screen, wonders why she bothered to wake up, this is for you:
Resistance is directly proportional to love. If you’re feeling massive Resistance, the good news is, it means there’s tremendous love there too. If you didn’t love the project that is terrifying you, you wouldn’t feel anything. The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.
The more Resistance you experience, the more important your unmanifested art/project/enterprise is to you—and the more gratification you will feel when you finally do it.
So take comfort in knowing you’re on the right track. But don’t let your guard down. Not for a minute. Arm yourself with a copy of Stephen Pressfield’s The War of Art; don your camouflaged helmet, your flak jacket and weapons. Battle Resistance every day, in spite of excuses, no matter what, by giving birth to the work you are meant to do.