Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The War of Art: Arm Yourself with This Book

In the last week I've written nearly 4,000 words on a new story. That may not seem like much to some writers, but for me this week has been more productive than the last six months combined. During that time, that dormant period, I told myself I wasn't writing because I was focused on shopping my book to agents. And that did take up a chunk of time, but that wasn't the reason I wasn't writing.

It was because I was petrified. Petrified of not being able to do this again, to write a book. Petrified of sitting down and finding out there was nothing left. And all that time I was waiting for that fear to subside before I tried to write again.

Then I read Steven Pressfield's The War Of Art and I turned pro. I thought I'd turned pro before, but Pressfield (here's his website) taught me the secrets of being a pro: you sit down and you write. Waiting for ideal circumstances, for quiet, for courage or whatever we wait for when we procrastinate, that's all amateur stuff. That's all what he calls Resistance. And the only way to beat it is on a day to day basis, by putting your butt down and hammering away at it. When a writer does that, THEN comes inspiration and courage and THEN comes the story. Only the act of writing produces writing. Only work works.

That sounds so simple, that there must be a catch. The catch is that "Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work." Resistance says: You suck, You have other things to do first, You didn't get enough sleep to write, Nobody wants to read your crap anyway, etc etc. And the only way to shut it up is to work.

So I did, I have. And I feel great. When Resistance wins, it permeates everything with a general shitty feeling. When we win over Resistance, one day at a time, there's a positive energy that sticks to us.

Pressfield has done God's work by peeling away all the excuses and tricks of our creative enemy and reminding us of what we're here to do; what we need to do for both our own sake and the universe's.

My favorite quote is right near the beginning:

"How many pages have I produced? I don’t care. Are they any good? I don’t even think about it. All that matters is I’ve put in my time and hit it with all I’ve got. All that counts is that, for this day, for this session, I have overcome Resistance."

It's worth noting that Steven King talks about this a little in On Writing, where he talks about the discipline of shutting out the world and working, so that his Muse (a cigar-puffing basement dweller) knows where and when to find him. Pressfield boils that concept down and drills it home in a way that connects directly to both the practical and "higher" parts of our minds. The books go really well together, and I keep them both handy. (Incidentally, I plan on adding Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing, which I've read but don't own yet.) 

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