Saturday, April 11, 2015

I recently finished reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It's one of those books that comes up often when writers discuss their favorite craft books, but one which I never got around to reading before. It's in the vein of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott or Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. These books don't teach you about grammar or plot structure or how to write believable characters.

What these books teach is that the struggles you go through on the path to becoming a writer are not unique to you; all writers face them. Indeed, all creative people face blocks to fulfilling their dreams. Success is pressing on in spite of the blocks.

A good part of this small book focuses on resistance, that thing which keeps you from doing the very thing you were born to do. Writers talk about this all the time. Usually it takes the form of "Why is it that every time I sit down to write, suddenly cleaning the toilet becomes preferable?"

Writers can come up with all kinds of excuses to not write. Research is always a good one. When you're doing research, you can pretend that you're working on your book because there are certain facts you must know before you submit the book to an agent or publish it yourself. Of course, you don't need to know them at that exact minute. And you certainly don't need to know all that other stuff you found on the web while researching a fairly simple question.

Talking to other writers, whether in person or online, is another excellent excuse. We call that "networking." Writers need other writers as critique partners, as sources of information, as someone to blurb your next book. You have to make time to network. Unfortunately, too often these conversations turn into excuses to socialize, to have an old-fashioned kaffeeklatsch, gossiping and whining to one another about anything and everything, including why they're not writing.

The puzzle is why we continue to do this when the only result is not accomplishing anything. You wind up feeling like a failure. But Resistance is strong.

This really hit home with me. I began the year with good intentions, as always. I was going to develop a writing schedule and stick to it. I was going to be more productive. There was no reason why I couldn't be. I'm retired after over thirty years of having to go to a day job that often required more than forty hours a week.

But then I made sure I did exactly the opposite by volunteering for more responsibilities and scheduling appointments early in the day "so I could have the rest of the day free to write" and starting my day with Facebook and email "just to see what was going on and if there was anything I should be aware of."

And then, while I was at yet another one of those meetings being told that part of what I needed to do as a member of that group was to give it more time, I said the magic words: "I have a full time job, even if it doesn't pay very much."

A lightbulb went on for me.

I had told myself writing was a full time job, but I'd been tracking the hours I spent on it and reality was that I hadn't even made it a decent part time job. Resistance had sneaked in and gotten me to fill up lots of hours with things that weren't writing, leaving little time and energy for what I said I wanted to do. Until I read The War of Art, I hadn't realized what was going on. I was purposely sabotaging my calling.

Because, as Pressfield says, that's what writing is: my calling. If you don't fulfill your calling,

I'm not being selfish when I give writing a priority, which is what I feel every time I decline a commitment. I'm doing what God gave me to do.

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Elise's bookshelf: currently-reading

A Clash of Kings
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