Thursday, January 27, 2011

On war and trolls

I've been reading Steven Pressfield's The War of Art, after hearing it recommended by lots of different people, including fellow CompuServe Forumite and all-round awesome writer Lori Benton.

It's all about Resistance, the shadowy, negative, internal force that stands between you and your goals. I'm not quite finished reading yet, but it's making a moderate amount of sense to me. And it's making my ears perk up in particular places- for example, where Pressfield emphasises that Resistance is greatest as you near the end of your project. The closer you are to reaching the pinnacle of your journey, the more internal mental tricks your subconscious plays to keep you from it.

Once upon a time I would have perhaps rolled my eyes at an assertion like this, but not at the moment. It's all too familiar. And that little hissing voice in my ear reminds me of a very early-career archaeological field trip I went on, where I visited a remote and deeply spiritual place with a group of Aboriginal elders.

We'd spent the whole day there, and ended up running a bit late, so it seemed no big deal when we decided to camp the night. But all of a sudden, all the elders were telling us no, we couldn't stay there at night. It wasn't a women's place, and bad things could happen. Completely inexperienced at all this and painfully ignorant of Aboriginal culture, 19-year-old me piped up and asked why everyone had so suddenly gone from cheery to deathly serious. And one of the old men turned to me and asked, "Can't you hear them on the wind?"

We all went silent, and in the next moment, the wind came rushing again through the valley, and there they were. Voices. Whispering. Not on the wind, but part of it.

We cleared out rather promptly after that.

But I digress. Those whispers on the wind are what Resistance sounds like. They tell you you're not good enough. They ask why you should bother. They suggest more important things you could be doing, or berate you for all the things you left aside to get some writing time.

The funny thing is, as soon as you become aware of Resistance, it begins to fade. It begins to feel a little less absolute.

I'm still working on fading mine right down to a point where I can fold it neatly into a little square, pack it in a box and drop it off the end of a long jetty. But in the meantime, I leave you with a passing thought on Internet trolls, and how Resistance might just play a part.

Resistance, Pressfield contends, can prod you into behaving badly toward other human beings. It can make you do crazy things in your search for a little acceptance, a little love. He doesn't give a scale of crazy, which is probably a good thing. Some people's behaviour would just shoot right off the top of that en route to the stratosphere.

If you reach a point in your life where you feel your only validation comes from other people, it's time to take a deep breath and look inside, especially if you feel like your own true self isn't worthwhile without embellishment and drama. It is, and in fact all the embellishment and the drama just brings you down, more and more every time. Each of us can learn a lesson from watching others flail around, desperate for attention. It's a reminder that ultimately, you're accountable to yourself for the way you act, and in the end you reap what you sow.

Trolls aside, that self-accountability applies strongly to writing, too. At the end of the day, you're the only one who can write your story. Nothing else matters- it's all down to you. My favourite quote from The War of Art:

It makes us nervous going off into the woods alone. Here's the trick: we are never alone. As soon as we step outside the campfire glow, our Muse lights on our shoulder like a butterfly.

Love it :) I'm fighting my Resistance. How about you?


  1. That's a great quote.

    I loved this post!

  2. Claire--Great quote. I just bought this one myself. It's on the way and I'm looking forward to it. Between Bird by Bird and The War of Art surely I can get going again...That's right. I'm admitting it out loud finally. I'm stuck. Ugh.

  3. Great post, Claire. I really enjoyed Pressfield's book, and I love that quote.

    I'm busy fighting my resistance, too. I know that circumstances are against me at the moment when it comes to writing, but I've gotten around them before and still found ways and time to write. This time, I haven't been able to, and I reckon it's all about nearing the end and not being happy with the shape of my WIP, knowing that even after this round of revision it will still need tons of work.

    "Well, duh," I've begun to tell my self. Of course it will still need more re-writing and editing and polishing ... it's the first book I've ever written, every step in the process is new and unfamiliar and something to be learned and, more than occasionally, stuffed up.

    It's all progress, though. Just need to keep this in mind, and keep going.

  4. I hear a deep breathy, mechanical voice observing: "The Resistance is strong in that one."

    Resistance is strong here. Thanks for the pep talk. I need it. :)

  5. Tara- I'm going to stick it on my wall, I reckon :)

    Zan Marie- you'd be the odd one out at the Forum if you *weren't* stuck right now. The collective has gone down together. We're all on the mat. But we'll all be back up again sooner or later, never fear.

    Rach- we're in exactly the same crappy headspace on that front. It's not that I'm afraid of the hard work, it's that there's a whiny little voice in the back of my head asking why I can't just call it finished (because it's not, I tell you, whiny little voice!). Not easy to work through, but we'll both get there.

    Susan- fight on! Together you and Nathan can beat the helmet-headed nasty and get back to your best :)

  6. That's a chilling story Claire. And yea, Resistance. Sheesh, is there ever a day when I don't wonder if my little story is worth all the computer face time and and all the guilt I heap on myself if I don't spend hours every day hacking away at edits?
    I mean, look, it's 6 pm, I haven't done a lick of work all day and now I'm scared to even start. I also smell burnt toast. So maybe it's all in my head?
    How do I pack away this Resistance for good?

  7. I'd been meaning to say, this was a great post, Claire.

    Somewhere around the time I was finishing PETAL, I realized I was doing a number on myself. That I was the one preventing me from finishing. The thing is, you can tell people about this resistance but I think most people have to realize it for themselves. The good thing is that usually that resistance fades with self awareness.