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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Persistence of Resistance

The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield is on a lot of Top 10 Writing Book lists (for example, this one:Brainpickings Best Books on Writing/)Its subtitle is Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.  The title is a riff on Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, which is a famous book I’ve never read. A lot of business folks do read it, though. It’s no doubt full of Eastern Wisdom about the nature of war, applicable to the battle for business supremacy as measured by dollars. Pressfield’s title is a catchy inversion, no? Creative folk also seek success, although perhaps on different terms, and we can use all the help we can get, especially in our business-centric society. In a nutshell, Pressfield’s idea is that resistance, or should I capitalize it, as Pressfield does, Resistance, is the Enemy when it comes to creating. According to him, creating art, or undertaking anything that moves us “from a lower sphere to a higher,” such as education, “an innovative enterprise,” or spiritual growth, forces us into pitched battle against Resistance. Resistance is what stands between “the life we live, and the unlived life within us.”

Pressfield goes on to define resistance, in its apparently multitudinous forms, in a series of short, aphoristic one-page paragraphs like the following:

Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.

So Resistance is invisible. Resistance derails. Resistance is obvious, but also insidious. It’s internal. It’s omnipresent. It’s unavoidable.

Okay, look, I don’t buy it. Resistance-shmesistance. I admit, I haven’t quite finished the book, so maybe I haven’t totally understood Pressfield’s point, but listen. I’ve got a plan. Resistance isn’t my problem. Repeat, I do have a plan. Here it is: pitch a couple articles, keep blogging, write a book proposal. Pitch that. While I’m pitching the proposal and the articles, scrounge up some paying meat ‘n potatoes freelance writing so we can tick off a few budget line items.

Resistance? Big talk about nothing. Now, I mentioned I haven’t finished the book. That’s because once I started it I thought I’d better read The Art of War, so I’d know where The War of Art was coming from. So I had to download a free copy. (I recommend the Internet Archive. Got me a nice PDF.) Then I had to print it, and lo and behold, there was no paper, and then I ran out of toner, which I had to organize the desk to be sure of, because who knows where People Who Live With Me put these things, maybe there was an extra cartridge somewhere—there wasn’t. Which meant a run to Staples and who wants to do that? First I needed some fortification, also known as lunch; and during lunch I got lost in Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels which are about a bunch of repulsive rich British people in the 1980s and 1990s, really reprehensible folk who are quite fascinating in their way….A bunch of do-nothings, really, when you get down to it. Procrastinators, wastrels.

Also, after starting The War of Art, I seem to have become obsessed with making sure my bed is perfectly made. Hospital corners, lining up the quilt, and folding the duvet just so, are just so satisfying. Why haven’t I realized until now the beauty of the perfectly plumped pillow? Clean counters, too. They are really important before a person can get down to work. And if you’re in my house, you can marvel at the array of objects the 10-year-old uses as bookmarks, such as: instructions for the game Apples to Apples; the Roku remote control; hairclips; even other books; as well as that old standby, the couch cushion. All of these items need to be dealt with before cleaning the counters, because all of them are on the counters.

You know, stuff needs to get put in places before a person can do other--stuff. So a week’s gone by, and I haven’t done that proposal yet, but no biggie. I haven’t finished the Pressfield book yet, either. I have gotten through two and a half of St. Aubyn’s novels about those reprobate Brits, and my bed’s been perfect every day. I’ve been working out. I’ve cooked some delicious meals. I’ve even changed my earrings. Several times. Today. I even had a whole extra hour this morning because the 10-year-old went to school early. So I went to the grocery store. Sure, I used my freshest hour when I could’ve been writing to shop for groceries. Grocery shopping takes energy, too, you know. I’m getting a lot done. This isn’t resistance. It may not be my art, but it is, uh, stuff.

Now where is that Pressfield book? Oh, look, it’s my daughter’s bookmark. How fun! Now I can figure out if I’ve understood what he means by Resistance. I’ll give it another shot. See if anything resonates. Because it’s certainly nothing I can relate to so far. After all, here’s a blog post.


  1. Well done! In Journalism class we had "Show, don't tell" drilled into us. You did that so well.

    I was getting caught up in the lovely details of procrastination because they sound so familiar...unfortunately, mine hasn't yielded a blog post all summer. Is my resistance mightier than yours?

    1. Hard to tell, Scrollwork, because we have no idea what your overall goal was/is, or what you might have avoided BTW, procrastination seems like a great way to clean up those non-essentials on the to do list.....

      BTW, I am now blogging on Psychology Today's website. Same blog posts, different venue. Haven't figured out how to successfully install the button on my blog page that takes people there, though. Thought you'd like to know...

  2. OMG! Congratulations! Happy Dance! Yes, yes, you are far too dignified to join me so I'll have to do an extra wiggle for both of us. I see the URL up there although it's technically not a link since it's not clickable. Wish I could help you create that button but I've never done it myself.

    1. Thanks, Scrollwork! Dignity, shmignity! I did a little happy dance for myself. A refined one, of course.

      Still haven't figured out the button....