Resistance crushes creativity. But what is creative resistance?

Actually, it can be anything that stops you from creating, like almost cutting your thumb off when you’re cooking dinner so typing is hard (yep – that’s happened to me TWICE).

Or, maybe it shows up as procrastination or perfectionism. As a creative, there’s one thing you can count on. It WILL show up. So, how do you get through it?

As a creative, there’s one thing you can count on. It WILL show up. So, how do you get through it?

One of my fav books on the creative process is The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield. He tackles this topic unapologetically, and it’s one of my go-to books that I revisit every year or two.

Because unfortunately, the creative resistance beast is something that I’m struggling to slay right now. I know it well.

In this solo episode, I discuss:

  • what creative resistance actually is
  • why I don’t think there’s any such thing as “writer’s block”
  • the surprising potential (and not so great) consequences of failing to break through creative resistance
  • three steps to break through it

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Hello, welcome back to the Dear Creativity Let’s Play podcast. This episode is a solo show and I’m going to be talking about creative resistance.

But before we get there, I wanted to invite you to an event that I’m hosting next week. This is January, January 21, 22nd, and 23rd. 2020, I’m hosting a how to get your book published q&a summit, with an editor and an agent and myself and each day we will be talking about a different element of getting published.

Tuesday, a professional and we’ll be talking about editing and what that takes to get a book ready for publication. Wednesday, I will be talking about the road to self-publishing and what that looks like. I’ve published two novels, and I’ve also got some experience with the traditional route. I didn’t get published, but I did have an agent. So you can ask me questions about that.

And on Thursday, a literary agent will be talking about traditional publishing. And there are only so many ways to get published. And we set this up as a q&a. So we will each be presenting for 2030 minutes and talking about one area of expertise. And then we will open up the line question but if you would like to join us have questions and you want to talk to some experts to get your questions answered you can go to amyisaman.com/publish, and sign up there and we will get you off the zoom link so you can join us.

Now, onward to Creative resistance. What is it?

It is actually, basically just when you have a hard time being, writers will often refer to it as writer’s block, which I don’t actually, believe exists. I’ll talk about that in a little bit. However, I totally accept that acknowledge our creative resistance. So what is resistance when it comes to our creative endeavors? Getting the work out of us and into world and even more importantly, how do we break through it?

One of my favorite books on resistance is called the War of Art by Steven. The subtitle is breakthrough and win your inner creative battles. It’s one of those little tomes that I revisit every year or two. And I’ll put a link to it in the show notes.

Pressfield talks about resistance which he defines as, “negative force that arises whenever we try to move from a lower level to a higher level.” Any up-leveling, in any area of our life, we will often hit resistance.

And basically, anything that stops us from doing our creative work or creating, whether it’s writing or painting or photography or baking or whatever. Resistance could show up in so many different kinds of ways. And I imagine that, that you probably have sort of your go-to forms, of resistance, maybe procrastination, perfectionism, fear, even accidents.

It could be a dream project, it could be anything. Like there was one year I almost cut off my thumb like I cut the tip of my thumb off twice within a couple of months I couldn’t type. And like toward the end of big projects, that would be resistance. Or it could just be, you know, going to movies with a friend or I’ll do that but I’m feeling it right now. I’ll do it tomorrow. So mindset too, procrastination. You’d rather go workout because it’s really healthy and then I’ll feel energized.

So it’s choosing something else instead of doing the work. One way that resistance is currently showing up for me is that I decided that I need to plot more rather than through and get words out that I can fix later. And my writing partner and I have been battling about this.

I am fully aware that this is resistance showing up as perfectionism, I want it right from the get-go. And I know there’s always going to be lots of editing, but this novel that I’m working on is a murder mystery. And it’s requiring much more plying than I normally do because there’s a lot of different threads throughout it. So. I got to about a third of the way in, and I’m having a hell of a time sitting down to write because the GPS is all wonky.

I’m kind of clear where I want to go. But I’m not totally clear and vague, unclear storyline for this type of story is not working for me at all. So I’ve gone back to basics, I’ve stopped and pulled out my plotting books. And I’m going back to do work on it.

But then my writing partner keeps saying, just keep going but I can’t. I have to fix my GPS first. Pressfield probably would call this resistance with the capital R. I get it. I know this resistance. I am not putting My butt in a chair and writing. He would also call writers block another form of resistance and this isn’t writer’s block. I don’t actually believe in writer’s block.

And I’ve had clients and students say they can’t write because they have writer’s block. They’re blocked. The ideas just aren’t coming. And they want to work on their novel or a specific project but that damn cursor just sits there and blinks on the page and they have no idea what to say but as I said earlier, I don’t think writer’s block is actually a thing that exists. It’s merely another form of resistance, or an excuse for not doing the work. Here’s why.

I think if I sit down to write, I can always write something. It might not be what I want to write like the next scene in my novel. But I can definitely put out a post or your grocery list or the morning pages. I even wrote over and over, “I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write.” Maybe that’s a poem.

Something has never been blocked. Resistance shows up when I try and make something specific on a specific creative project that’s been procrastination, and perfectionism can rear their ugly little heads. And this is one of the reasons that morning pages are so helpful for me. Just cranking out a couple of pages to warm up before I write. We can write pages two to three pages every day if we just put our butt in the chair and just do it. It doesn’t need to make sense, doesn’t need to be cohesive, doesn’t need to tell a story. We’re writing. That’s all it is.

It’s the same with painting or you can do that thing. It might not be the thing that you want to do. Like you want to work on a painting, but just putting color on to that canvas? Do that.

It feels like a block. We’re all set to work on that one project and nothing comes. It’s not really a block. You can still paint, you can still do something.

One of my favorite stories and the War of Art is about Hitler, who apparently wanted to be an artist and I actually went back and looked it up. Okay, Wikipedia I didn’t read any Hitler bios or anything. But he did he wanted to go. But he did he would go to art school and did really poorly in technical school hoping that he would get kicked out so his father would let him go to art school. And the story about Hitler really highlights how important it is to get past the resistance, and create the thing, write something, paint something, sew something. Seriously, it could save lives. Here’s what Stephen Pressfield writes in the War of Art.

“At 18, Hitler took his inheritance and moved to Vienna to live and study applied to the Academy of finance and later to the school architecture. Ever seen one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat. Call it overstatement, but I’ll say it anyway. It was easier for Hitler to start world war two than it was for him to face the blank square of canvas.”

Let that sink in.

Now Hitler didn’t get into the Academy of Fine Arts, but he supported himself for you by selling watercolor paintings in Vienna. He stopped creating following World War One. Resistance beat him at that point, but I don’t want it to beat me. I don’t want it to beet you, for that matter or any creative person for that matter. Our words need to be written, our voices heard. We need to let that out of us, that calling, whatever it is, to create? I mean, think about it. How would the world be different if Hitler had honored the artist within and overcome resistance? He was phenomenal, phenomenal at creating war. What of he had created art?

Okay, admittedly, this is a super extreme example of someone who dreamed of being an artist as a child.

But it’s kind of an eye-opener. Right? It’s those are just so extreme examples that really open our eyes. So how to break through the resistance.

First, ask yourself, what do you want to create?

Then you do it. You show up, no matter what, every day, consistently, you do the thing. That’s how you break through resistance. You put your butt in the chair. Pick up your paints, pick up your camera, whatever it is the thing you want to do you do it. You get in the arena. We’ve all heard the famous Theodore Roosevelt quote, well, maybe you haven’t, that Brene Brown named her book Daring Greatly after? Theodore Roosevelt said,

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

That’s how you get past resistance.

You do the thing anyway, even if it’s crappy, even if that first draft is a shitty first draft as Anne Lamott says. Even if you don’t like it. Even if it’s ugly and not that you wanted, you’re doing the thing anyway. and that’s how you get past resistance.

If you’re a writer, you put your butt in the chair and write. If you’re a painter, get out some paint and paint. If you’re a photographer, you check your camera batteries and take a photo or you keep your phone in your hand and you start clicking.

Don’t judge your work. Don’t worry if it’s crappy, or terrible or not worthy of hanging in the Met, or making a bestseller list. Just Do the thing.

Now I will admit that there are some good things when it comes to resistance. You will all kind of wonderfulness done. Your desk is going to stay clean. You can catch up on super fun stuff, like laundry or ironing, your whole house will probably clean. You might read a book that you’ve been wanting to read for a long time or start a new shiny project that doesn’t have any of the problems that your current work has. You might watch great movies, get caught up on Netflix, spend some time quality time with a friend. But you won’t get your piece done. You will look back and wonder, what, exactly, was I doing?

When you weren’t doing work? Now there are a lot of ways to feed your creativity. You can go on a walk if you are feeling stuck. Right, and these could be resistance as well. Or they can feed your creativity. You could go on a walk. Or you could physically move to another place where you might feel inspired.

I had an interview with Abby Beauchamp a few weeks ago, episode ten, she talked about she, you know, set herself up at her desk to write and couldn’t write there. Then when she moved to the couch with some tea, words flowed. So try that, you could do a warm-up or a brainstorming session, I will put some links in the show notes to some warm-ups or exercises that you can do a warm-up before you begin working. You can go on an Artist’s date which I talked about in Episode Two. You can write in your morning pages or you can do something else creative. Creativity feeds creativity. It’s like a loop. Once you do one thing creative, it loops around and it’ll fire up other creative things in your life. At least that’s how my brain works. If I can, I’m still fighting on I will quilt or paint do some other creative thing and it will sort of loosen wherever I am stuck in my writing. So there are tons of ways to feed creativity but there is only one way to do work.

And that’s doing work. Breaking through the resistance and up-leveling to that next level of work that you want to create. So, enjoy the creating, do the thing, have fun. And if you need some support, head on over to amyisaman.com/coaching and I’d be happy to talk with you. And also remember if writing a book is on your to-do list this year, please sign up for the publishing Q&A. So amyisaman.com/publish.

And finally, if you like this podcast, I would love it, love it, love it super, super appreciative and grateful if you head over on over to iTunes and leave a review, so other people can find it as well. Thank you so much and have a great week. I’ll be back with another episode next week.

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