You have treasures hidden within you – extraordinary treasures… And bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking. – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
I have a finishing problem. Not for articles like this one, or blog posts. I even wrote a short story in a few weeks at the beginning of this year, but anything longer or larger in scope makes me freeze up.
Ten years ago while in graduate school, I wrote a short story about tragic loss and survivor’s guilt. When my professor suggested it could be turned into a novel, I leapt at the chance. Though I always dreamt of writing books, I never had an idea that felt expansive enough. This could be it, I decided, and wrote a hundred plus pages for my thesis.
Then two life-changing events happened: my mother died and not long after I became pregnant. Somehow I finished a draft of my novel days before my baby arrived.
That baby? She’s now seven. After a long hiatus, I rewrote the manuscript at least twice and it’s closer to done than it’s ever been. And yet, I’ve been avoiding it.
Excuses pour out: holidays, children, laundry, life.
But the truth is I’m stuck. I feel like a marathon runner, inches away from the finish line, but instead of springing forward, I sink to the ground.
What I’m struggling with is not original. In fact, it’s quite common. You’ve probably dealt with this problem in one form or another: resistance.
Steven Pressfield has written an entire book about the topic, called The War of Art. He believes everyone—not just artists and writers—must overcome resistance. Not once or twice, but every day of our lives.
For me, and I imagine for many others, resistance digs its claws in most deeply at the beginning and the end of projects.
How can we face the blank page? How can we finish what we start?
These are elemental questions that all writers face, over and over again. They don’t get easier to answer, but after a while, patterns emerge. If we can become familiar with our own tendencies and habits, we can manifest our dreams.
Here are three simple steps to help you begin – or finish what you started:
1. Acknowledge and identify your resistance.
This is tricky because some resistance is obvious, such as cleaning your house or wasting time on social media instead of writing. Procrastination, of any sort, is resistance. I’ll start writing after XYZ (my kids start school, when the holidays are over, my job slows down, etc.).
But resistance can also take darker, more destructive forms. Criticizing other people, for example, can be a manifestation of resistance. Creating unnecessary drama in your life, or self-medicating via drinking, drugs, or any other kind of addiction may keep you from fulfilling your dreams.
Sometimes, resistance poses as a model citizen. Mine, for example, takes the form of writing. Imagine that! If I keep myself busy working on articles, blog posts, taking notes for my future memoir, it’s easy to rationalize why I’m not revising my novel. I am writing, after all…
Don’t be fooled. Despite its many disguises, resistance can be instantly recognized by how it makes you feel: unhappy.
2. Make a plan. (But not too grand of a plan.)
Think small. Think bite-sized. My four-year-old son loves when I bake chocolate chip muffins. Sometimes, he gets so excited that he stuffs the whole thing in his mouth. I think you know where I’m headed. The muffin ends up in the trash.
The same goes for goals. There’s a reason why most people abandon their New Year’s resolutions by the end of January. They bit off more than they could chew.
I’m not saying to abandon your grandiose plan. In fact, it’s important to know what it is. But don’t give yourself a long-term deadline for finishing it. Life is changeable. You don’t know what yours will look like in six months or a year. Think in smaller increments. What can you accomplish in three months or a season, in order to get closer to that big goal?
Then work backwards. Break it down into small goals for each month. Each week. Each day.
I’m not necessarily talking word count here. An example of a daily goal might be writing down a positive affirmation when you wake up, journaling for five minutes, or going for a walk to clear your mind – even if only to your mailbox.
The bottom line is, if you make your goals small enough, they are more easily accomplished, which builds confidence, and over time, progress.
3. Don’t do it alone.
In a keynote speech, author Julianna Baggott had a unique suggestion for maintaining accountability: eyeballs. I’m not sure if she was joking or not, but one of her ideas was to tape a picture of someone’s gaze on the wall, perhaps a mentor or a rival. The idea being, someone is watching. You better be working.
I thought about this recently because one of my kids left a ring from Halloween in our bathroom. It’s an eyeball. Every day it’s been staring at me while I brush my teeth and I’m considering moving it to my office.
But you don’t need a plastic ring or someone’s searing gaze to help with accountability. All you need is a friend. It can be someone you know in real life or online, someone you meet here in comments or in a writing class.
Check in with each other on a regular basis, perhaps weekly. The point is not to shame or chastise, but to support and encourage.
Writing is often a solitary act, but we all need support. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves, explains it like this:
“Friends who love you and have warmth for your creative life are the very best suns in the world.”
Hold your suns close, and be someone else’s (tweet that!)
While resistance can be fatal to creative dreams, it does have one redeeming factor. Pressfield explains, “The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”
Use it like a compass and it will steer you home.
Is there a project you’d love to begin (or finish) and you can’t seem to make it happen? Journal about what form of resistance you’re experiencing. Tell us about it in the comments!
Image credit: Emon Hassan