I’ve been doing a lot more writing lately. I have to credit that in part to a two-week writing challenge I did recently, 1,000 words of summer, an idea by author Jami Attenberg. The challenge: write at least a thousand words a day for two weeks. There were a couple days I fell short. Most days I went over—sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot. I figure it all evened out in the end.
The thing that surprised me: I was able to keep up that momentum for another couple weeks. This past week I finished the first draft of a story I’ve been working on for a couple years now. I started rewriting another one. (Literally, I am rewriting it, not revising it. I started with a blank document and am just doing it over.) I went back to the sequel to The Unwanted that I shelved a couple years ago. (You can read a bit of it over here.) And always, always, there’s the novel I’m revising. I’m getting closer to the end of that as well.
Then I got to this past weekend, and that momentum sputtered out. I’m not sure where it went.
Instead of writing, I spent the weekend running errands, eating out, nursing a bum knee, and watching Dead to Me. And thinking about resistance in the creative process. My own resistance in particular, but also in general.
Where does the resistance come from?
A lot of that resistance, I think, is usually of my own making. It’s fed by the things I say to myself, even if it’s just in my head. You’ve probably said them to yourself too. Things like:
- I can’t do this. If I do, the house will become a disaster area.
- I have to pick up the kids from soccer practice.
- I need to make money first.
- I can’t write like [insert name of more successful author here] does. They have three books out already.
- Their second book has been optioned by Amazon/Hulu/streaming platform of the moment.
- Someone else has already written about this.
Or internal doubts about the project/process itself:
- I have an idea but I don’t know where to start.
- I can’t get it down on paper the way it is in my head.
- Will I be able to finish this? Will I lose the spark halfway through?
- Who am I kidding? I can’t write.
As I watched Christina Applegate deal with a kid who’s dealing drugs and carrying a loaded gun in his backpack (oh, sorry—spoilers), I asked myself if any of the things I listed above were going through my head at this particular time.
If I’m honest, “Who am I kidding? I can’t write” is there often.
It may seem like no one else has felt this way, but here’s the thing: that feeling contradicts all the resistance you’re feeling. “Someone else has already written this” is the same as “somebody else felt this way, too.” Me, I try to take comfort in that.
This is something that keeps coming up in my own relationship to my writing, and it’s something I try to get across to my students. Yes, other people have felt things similar to what you’re feeling. Yes, other writers have written stories that may deal with the same plots/subjects/themes that yours does, but—
There’s always a but.
No one has seen the world in exactly the way you do.
No one ever—ever—will. And that’s why you need to tell your story.
The resistance you feel is not unique to you, though aspects of its particular expression very likely are. However, there are thousands of writers (I’m guessing) who have felt resistance because they have a house to keep up or children to stop from putting their fingers in electrical sockets. Most writers have to balance the time spent on their creative work against the demands of the job that pays the mortgage and buys all the gas to get the car between the kids’ after-school activities.
And yet, they wrote their novel or their poetry collection or their screenplay. Sure, they may have had more privilege than you or me: wealth, connections. A spouse who made enough that they didn’t have to get a desk job too. White privilege (to be fair, I have that one). Cisgender (that one, too) heteronormativity (but definitely not that one).
Regardless of their (and our) privilege or lack thereof, if they did it, then there’s a chance we can too. But not if we don’t figure out how to overcome that resistance, that voice that keeps whispering in our ear. And that’s something I still work on.
If you’re a writer, I hope you will, too.