I’m guessing this next piece of wisdom I’m about to impart is not going to come as a huge surprise to most of you, but just in case, I’m going to say it (*write it) out loud anyway: DOING HARD THINGS IS HARD.
Even though logically most of us know this and can parrot back the axiom “Life is hard!” with little thought, I think there’s still some part of us that expects our passion, our dream, our life goal to be difficult, but less difficult for us than for everyone else, and hard, but also fulfilling and beautiful in the struggle. In writing, as with any dream I suppose, this isn’t exactly true.
There are so many places to plateau, to give in, to let up some of the resistance—before we feel like “our dream” is going to crush us or eat us alive. And here I proceed with caution, because I don’t want anyone to feel badgered into pressing on if they feel like they’re on the brink of insanity. Nothing, even writing, trumps your well-being.
That being said, I now say the reason I’m writing this post: the higher the mountain, the bigger the reward. Don’t give yourself a small hill because it’s easier. I’ve been thinking about this for two reasons. A week or so ago, I went to a local bookstore to buy my friend a novel. That’s how I comfort people—not with cards or flowers or back rubs—but with books. Anyway, while I was there, I also grabbed the yearly “Writer’s Digest Handbook” and when I got up to the counter, the knowledgeable shopkeep (this is why, bookstores, you always, always hire people who actually read, thank you) glanced at the magazine and said, “Is that for you?” I told him yes and he said, “You might like this book I just read,” and wrote it down for me on the back of my receipt.
The book was this:
It is, first of all, sort of invigorating to think of art as a battle, yes?
Steven Pressfield is basically writing on the premise that everyone who does something creatively, anyone who even wants to change for the better, comes up against something called Resistance; the book teaches writers to recognize and knock down dream-blocking barriers and to silence the naysayers within us. The War of Art identifies the enemy that every one of us must face, outlines a battle plan to conquer this internal foe.
I, for one, was simply glad to have a name for THIS THING which I could not always understand cropping up whenever I wanted to accomplish something worthwhile.
Here are a few nuggets from the book:
“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
“The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.”
“We fear discovering that we are more than we think we are. More than our parents/children/teachers think we are. We fear that we actually possess the talent that our still, small voice tells us. That we actually have the guts, the perseverance, the capacity. We fear that we truly can steer our ship, plant our flag, reach our Promised Land. We fear this because, if it’s true, then we become estranged from all we know. We pass through a membrane. We become monsters and monstrous.”
“Resistance is directly proportional to love. If you’re feeling massive Resistance, the good news is that it means there’s tremendous love there too.”
And then, right after I get done reading this book, my mom sends me a “motivational” video. My mom, as I think I’ve mentioned, is a hardcore fitness buff and the video, I’m pretty sure, was made originally for athletes, not writers. But in that moment, I felt like writing was a physical battle. I felt like a warrior, baby! And this video razzed me up a bit, I confess—as it was directly designed to do. For me, writing is not mystical. I have only very slightly above average talent, but what I do have is sickening work ethic.
So in case it might inspire any of you, I’ll share that too: