Overcoming Resistance (A.K.A. Fear)

>> Saturday, October 30, 2010

Considering Halloween is here, fear seemed an appropriate topic for a post.

I just finished reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

In a nutshell, this amazingly talented and successful writer speaks to a writer's resistance to the writing itself, gives practical guidelines on how to overcome it and inspiration on the writer's journey.

I have to admit, I'm struggling with this now.  And as the deadline for my second book to Kensington draws near, it seems I find more and more...resistance.

And...yes, this post as well as reading the e-book, counts as distraction, and thus, resistance.

Paraphrasing Pressfield's astute definition of resistance, it is any distraction, real or contrived (mostly contrived) which keeps you from sitting down and getting the words on paper -- or rather, on screen. 

You know them--blogging (eh-hem), research, facebook, twitter, reading, TV, movies, friends, kids, laundry, trimming the dog's toe nails, washing the hamster, brainstorming your next series before you've finished the edits on the one in your editor's hands... [yes this resembles you, dearest CP ...].

Yes.  Distraction = Resistance.  I know.  Painfully so.  I'm there.

But, where does this resistance come from?

Ah, yes, fear.  I know it well.  That little devil whispers in my ear constantly.  "Will my editor like this?  Is it too ordinary?  Is it too contrived?  Is my plot organic?  Are my characters 3-D?  Is there too much sex?  Too little?  Too explicit?  Not explicit enough?  OMG, what if I write these 100,000 words and she hates it?"

You get the picture.  It's not pretty.  It doesn't feel pretty either.  And as I get closer to finishing--now about five chapters away, the stronger my resistance becomes.  Which, once again, is explained by Pressfield:

Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.

Well, then, this writing gig must mean a lot to the growth of my soul, because I'm nearly frozen by the damn thing!

I'll get over it.  I have countless times before.  I will again.  Because, deep down, I know writing for me is both a curse and a calling.  About 90%-10%, respectively.  I couldn't quit writing any more than I could quit being a mother to my two teenage daughters.  As challenging, hair-pulling, nail-biting and potentially health threatening as it is...that's who I am--as much a writer as a mother.

I'd just love to find a kinder, gentler way to beat this fear, a.k.a. resistance, so I'm not beating myself up over revisions right down to midnight the night before the dang project is due.

How do you handle fear and/or resistance?


Trish 10:19 PM  

I went through a really bad cycle of fear a couple of years back. It got so bad I started having panic attacks when I'd sit down at the key board. I actually bought The War of Art back then, in the hope in might help me work through the issues I was having.

When I couldn't force myself past it, I quit writing. That lasted maybe 6 months. Once I started writing again, the fear never returned.

It's only recently that I've realized what actually changed. The big change is that I stopped worrying what other people thought. (Agents, Editors, Cps, readers) I started listening more to my gut, and my tastes and writing first and foremost for myself. I stopped reading/listening to workshops because all the time I spent analyzing my work for the various elements, made me start questioning my choices, which in turn made me start questioning my instincts. And once you start questioning your instincts you're in trouble.

That isn't to say I started ignoring CP feedback. Once I turned that corner it became quite easy to pick and choose what feedback worked or didn't work for me.

I stopped being a perfectionist--at least in the first few drafts. I learned to accept imperfections because I know they can always be fixed. These days, anytime I feel myself starting to freeze up, I sit down and fast draft for a couple of hours. The simple act of writing, of letting the words and story flow sweeps the fear away.

But I think the single most crucial change I made was consistency. I started writing every day. During the past year, I've never taken more than one day in a row off. I've found the simple act of writing consistently, day in and day out, guts the fear. I’ve also found that maintaining a habit (writing at the same time each day, writing a set amount of words) keeps the fear at bay. I discovered years ago that the more time I spend not writing, the stronger the fear sets in. So these days I don’t give it a chance to take up residence.

Joan Swan 8:15 AM  

Trish, such awesome insight. I'm so glad you are writing again. You've got such an awesome, fresh, vivid and humorous voice.

So much I relate to in your comments, which tells me thousands of other writers suffer from the same issues.

Over the years, I, too, have given up on perfection -- at least in the first 10 drafts. Then I get a bit nitpicky. :) I'm a big revisor.

I also find the same increased resistence to writing as time passes.

But my biggie is that deadline approaching. I fret and fester. But as if I have an internal clock that tells me exactly how much time it will take to finish, I kick in as just the right time to get it done. And done well.

Of course, that was only the first book I wrote on deadline. This is the second. I know I can't do that forever.

Today I decided to keep a journal with my computer. If I hit one of those fear spots where the cursor blinks at me and the resistence wells up, I'm going to take out the journal and write -- not write-write, just journal write - feelings, emotions, fear, story ideas, whatever comes into my head, until the fear subsides and I can work on my WIP.

Interestingly, I have not had these problems with revisions (as long as I'm not gutting the story and rewriting). Revisions and edits, even when they involve rewriting/reworking the story, don't threaten me for some reason. Seems the act of creating is my biggest sticking point.

Trish 9:36 AM  

I never freeze up on revisions either. It happens when I'm in creation mode. For me, that fear/freezing went back to image and perfectionism. I write from this crystal clear image in my mind. It's a three dimensional image where I can see, hear, and feel the characters. I can feel their emotions, see their actions, and hear their thoughts. Yet early attempts to get the scene down on paper never match that crystal clear image in my mind, which left me frustrated. I think that was what was freezing me up. That I'd never be able to write the scene as good as what my imagination was showing me. That I'd never be able to make the book as good as my imagination showed me it could be.

What I didn't realize until later, is that it’s the revision process that brings the two versions together. Revisions are the process that transfers the image in my head down to the paper. The first draft is about getting the characters and story down. Revisions are for getting the image right.

One thing that might help you work past the fear is to stop and remind yourself that anything can be fixed. If your editor doesn’t like something about the book, you can tweak it until she does. Words aren’t set in stone just because they are down on the page. They can be adjusted, cut, added. You can fix/ or adjust anything once you have the book finished. There is no expiration date when it comes to our own material.

I've never been on a deadline though. And when you start writing for an actual house and editor, everything changes. But I think this is where an ingrained habit of consistency could really be of benefit. I know too many contracted authors who flounder for months, only to kick into gear at the last moment and burn the midnight oil fighting to turn the material in on time. If this is repeated deadline after deadline, its starts impacting their creativity. They start burning out. And once they start burning out, everything is affected.

This is why I am working so hard to build a consistency habit. A set amount of words each and every day. In 2011 I’m setting a deadline of July first to get TCM out on submissions and I’ll adjust my daily output goat so I can make this deadline. By the time I sell I want this habit to be so firmly set, that it will be second nature.

Joan Swan 9:45 AM  

You make great points! And I DON'T want to turn into that type of author. I want my next work to be better than the previous.

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