One of my favorite books about getting out of our own way is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. The author explores inner creative battles and discusses how writers resist writing even though, ideally, we should be tackling projects that make us stretch and taking on assignments that will lead us into uncharted waters and/or compel us to explore unconscious parts of ourselves. It’s written in short chapters so I keep it near my favorite reading chair and absorb it in small bites — food for thought throughout my day. I’ve recognized myself in its pages.
Most of the dictionary definitions for the word “resistance” contain the idea of opposition. When we resist ourselves, we are opposing ourselves, which seems counterintuitive to our mission. We are the ones we should be most in touch with and paying attention to. Our unique perspective on how we see the world, embrace or reject love, rejoice and carry on in a crisis — that’s what will make our music unique as well.
Why would we resist ourselves? My main reason for procrastination has to do with a fear of not being able to effectively execute a particularly precious idea — perhaps a concept that came to me like a bolt of lightning and begged to be written immediately in order to preserve the integrity of its essence. But then I think to myself, if I “mis-execute” it I won’t be able to go back and try another approach. So, instead, I prune my gardenias or clean out a closet lest I taint my precious idea forever. That’s my inner dialogue. I think we all have our own inner dialogue that keeps us from advancing.
All this despite the fact that I know from experience that if I put my “mis-execution” on the back burner I can safely give myself permission to start over. (It’s not going anywhere). There may even be bits of version #1 worth incorporating into version #2.
I actually believe that resistance can function as a necessary step in the creative process. For example, I’ve witnessed my husband (who’s a film composer) pace our bedroom for hours, unable to turn out the light, because he couldn’t come up with a cue for an important scene that would live up to the emotion on the screen. I always remind him that this is his M.O. Part of his drill. “Keep pacing,” I tell him. “Knock yourself out.” Eventually (most likely first thing in the morning) he’s going to go back into the studio, put his hands on the keys and write it. And it’s gonna be good. It always is. But not before the torture. Luckily, he has a live-in muse to remind him of that. 😃
Funny that even though my inner dialogues and excuses have evolved over the years, even though I’ve had Number 1 hits and there are dozens of gold records on my wall, I still face resistance. I’ve had to wonder if maybe I need it — if it’s serving me in some vague but positive way. Making art is never clear and concise. Overcoming creative obstacles can be a mysterious, confusing — but delicious — journey.
If we surrender to our own resistance — if we let it scare us and push us too far back from the front line — we lose. But if we can be more aware of it, recognize our own inner dialogue and give it a little breathing room, we can outsmart it. It’s all about knowing that resistance is part of the process. It’s just a matter of time before we get the upper hand.
So maybe the challenge is to outlast the resistance in order to win that war of art and emerge victorious. There’s no uncharted territory we can’t chart. The gardenias and the closet will just have to wait.