Revision vs. Resistance (watch out, writers!)
If you’ve read Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art, then you know about Resistance. Pressfield believes Resistance is an actual force (invisible, implacable & impersonal) whose aim is to prevent us from doing our work.
I happen to agree. I think it’s part of the Hero’s Journey of life. We get the Call to Adventure (the inspiration to begin a great undertaking, one that will transform our lives) and Resistance pops up. We might get scared and refuse the call. Ergo Resistance wins. Or we might answer the call and face more Resistance as we cross daunting thresholds, facing down Mother Gothels and 9-Headed Swamp Monsters and our own self-sabotaging traps.
But what happens when we forge ahead? What happens when Resistance has thrown everything at us, and we have managed to keep on truckin’? I think this is when Resistance gets really sneaky. It has to. If you have proven yourself to be clever, then Resistance has to get doubly clever in order to outwit you.
For writers, I think it sneaks into the writing sphere as Perfectionism. But it disguises itself! Why? Because it knows that if you know it’s actually Perfectionism, you won’t fall for it. So sometimes it adorns the cloak of Revision. This is incredibly clever, since every writer knows that revision is necessary. “Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten.” (Michael Crichton) But there also comes a point when revision does not make it better, it just makes it different.
But Resistance is a sneaky s-o-b. Cleverly disguised as Revision #347, it will tempt us on the journey of no return. It knows what we don’t know: that if it can keep us re-writing the book ad nauseum, the story may never see the light of day. We will overwork it to death. We’ll become overwhelmed and quit. Instead of finishing the thing, we will buy one more book on How to Write. And then, realizing our book will never be what so-and-so says all books should be, we will sigh…cry… and quit.
OR, we will fall into the Dependency Trap by seeking 88 different opinions on a single chapter, and then attempt to re-write that chapter (plus 10 other chapters) 88 times, in order to please 88 different people. Resistance knows this will make us crazy! We will become overwhelmed and stop. Or worse: we will seek 88 more opinions.
If Resistance gets its way, this is the beginning of the end. Writing is a lonely business. Stephen King compares it to sailing across the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub– plenty of room for doubt. How can we sail across the sea of uncertainty, if we lack trust in ourselves? The answer is, we can’t. And if we think we can’t, we won’t.
The Call to Adventure ends there. Resistance smiles. Checks our name off its list. And then it plays its favorite song: Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”
They key to beating Resistance is to acknowledge it. “The psyche has many secrets in reserve. And these are not disclosed unless required.” (from Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces)
Only after we’ve learned some aspect of Resistance we didn’t know before are we then given the tools to combat it. We grow stronger. Wiser. We gain new Allies and return to the Ordinary World with the precious Elixir.
Now tell me: Doesn’t that make for a better story?