Why are you doing this?
This is what I asked myself today after my psyche decided to wage war on my resolve to write. I had a few hours reserved just for writing, I knew what I wanted to write about and yet, once I sat down to do the work, I froze. The words wouldn’t come … and the ones that finally did felt muddy and all wrong.
I decided to go for a walk to clear my head. But my head refused to be cleared.
Why are you even trying this? Do you know how many aspiring writers are out there doing the same thing and failing? Aren’t you too old? Isn’t it too late to try a new thing and expect to make a living from it? Why try so hard? You have a good life, you make good money. Aren’t you just being ungrateful?
But finally, one question silenced them all.
What else can I do?
And the answer? Nothing.
The Process, the Hero and the Beast
Steven Pressfield wrote an entire book dedicated to fighting what he termed ‘the Resistance’.
The Resistance is the enemy of creativity, an “all-encompassing term for what Freud called the Death Wish — that destructive force inside human nature that rises whenever we consider a tough, long-term course of action that might do for us or others something that’s actually good.”
The Resistance is a million different things. It’s the call of late night food when you’re on a diet. It’s a well paying job in design when you deeply want to pursue writing. It’s procrastination, it’s self-doubt, it’s bad habits, it’s fear, it’s laziness, it’s victimhood, it’s rationalization, it’s self-medication.
And for me, the Resistance is also the nagging voices in my head asking me the questions I’m afraid to answer.
The way I (and Steven) see it, ‘the Resistance’ is the villain we must all fight in order to finally create what we’re meant to create and become the hero of our own story. That formidable foe at the end of the path that blocks the heroine from her goal. The dragon she must slay to save her kingdom and live in peace.
If you know anything about the concept of the Hero’s Journey, in every great myth or legend there is a call on the hero to leave the known world and enter the unknown world. And quite frankly, this theme isn’t just for myths … in every great success story, there is a similar call to action.
For me, this is finally choosing to pursue writing for real versus staying in the comfortable, safe world of design I have known for years. To be honest, I haven’t exactly left my known world – I’m merely dipping my toes into the unknown one.
And that simple act of daring to be open to a new life and a new calling has stirred the enemy and set it against me.
And my beast has many questions.
Well, I’ve always loved words. And communication is so important to me. Saying what you mean, meaning what you say. I’ve never understood people who kept things to themselves. I’ve never understood not saying “I love you” or “you hurt me” or “I messed up”. I feel like there is such freedom and power in sharing your truth without shame, whatever that truth may be.
And I love the way writing allows you to shape your own story into something beautiful. Words are powerful. They can create entire worlds … and also bring them crashing down. They can heal. They can shape. They can transform. If said with grace and reverence and truth, I feel like words can change the world.
What kind of writer?
I don’t know … yet. Fiction? Poetry? I don’t honestly know. Maybe all kinds of writing?
I guess because … it’s as good a time as any. Or maybe because I finally reached a point where I feel like I could write from a place that understands myself and others better? Maybe because I woke up and realized if I didn’t at least try for my dreams, I would regret it?
Are you any good?
No, I don’t think so. Not yet. But I hope I will get there.
How? How do you plan to get there?
I’m not sure. Keep … trying? Take a class. Ask for guidance. Pray for serendipity.
Aren’t you being greedy? You have a great job that you actually enjoy, why not just focus on that?
I recently heard a really great (old) Tim Ferris podcast that featured Cheryl Strayed. And I think she answered this question best. Doing what you want, going for what your heart TRULY desires, seems selfish but it’s actually an act of generosity. It’s the opposite. Because it allows you to give back to the world what you were meant and designed to. And anything less than that is apathetic.
She went on to say that the thing about art is we must be so committed to making it even if we aren’t ever loved.
But this … is a very scary and vulnerable act. Especially for creative people. And this is why so many let the Resistance win.
Sometimes the beast wins
I’ve written a lot about ‘trusting the process’. It’s a phrase everyone now days is using and it’s a great one really. It’s very true. You do have to trust the process. You do have to believe in the outcome of your path.
But the really nebulous thing about the process is that it is different for everyone. Your path to victory over the beast is different than mine. And the monster in your hero’s journey is different than the monster in mine.
For me, so far, the process is messy and brutal and filled with hidden demons. And my beast-of-many-questions has been successful at beating me, time and again. Like today.
The resistance was really fucking strong today.
I looked at the blank screen waiting to be filled and I just didn’t even know what to say. I knew what I needed to write but it’s like in a nightmare when you know you should scream, but no sound comes out.
Some days you show up and the muse doesn’t. And you feel completely alone in your quest.
These are the days that scare me.
But the truth is … we are alone in our quests for whatever greatness lies within. You can have a mentor, you can have a coach, you can have a husband/wife, you can even have a creative business partner – but ultimately the journey to your greatness lies within you and no one else. The path is yours alone. The beast to vanquish is yours alone.
Today the resistance was strong. And not just the questions that I struggled to answer.
It’s as if I looked around me and I could see all the skeletons of other people’s dreams on the path beside me. All the people who maybe wanted the same things as me, who maybe embarked on the same spiritual journey, who gave up and let the beast (the Resistance) win. Who settled in a career or relationship they really enjoy but aren’t passionate about. Who were scorched by their own desire and fear of failure. Who maybe did reach the beast and tried to slay it, but ultimately the beast won.
Because the truth is … sometimes the hero doesn’t win.
Embrace the suck
This is where I am. A no man’s land of dead dreams. The skeletons of other failed attempts all around me.
This is that uncomfortable part in the hero’s journey where you have to take stock of the odds. The forest is so thick you can’t really see the path in front of you. And hell, I don’t even know how I got on this path to begin with. I want to run back. I’m ill-equipped. And I’m trying to slay the monstrous villain with a faulty pen and a blunt sword.
In a word, I suck. I suck hard.
Oh I can string some words together, they might even be pleasant and enjoyable for some to read. I can get a handful likes. Some mild validation. But ultimately I suck.
Not because I’m not capable of being good, but because I don’t know what the hell I’m doing yet.
It’s like how I felt when I started my new job as a manager back in April. Every system here was new. The language was new. The process was new. And I didn’t understand one bit of it. It was very uncomfortable. But the major difference is I’ve been a design manager for a retail company before. So I know what the end result should look and feel like, with some slight alterations based on the company itself. I know what success feels like in this arena.
As I writer I don’t know what the end result should be. I don’t know what success looks like here. Is it simply the day I can live comfortably writing? Is that what I’ll consider a success? When I am published on sites and I can make a living?
Or … is it deeper than that?
Yes, I think it’s deeper than that. I think it’s when I know I’m creating work that means something to me and to others.
Nope. Even deeper than that.
I think it’s when I feel as if the unspoken, unrefined words hidden deep in my soul have finally been uttered. When the whispers and the muse have finally spoken loud enough so that I can give life to what I know is inside me.
Oh … even further. When I’ve created the thing I know I was supposed to create and I was committed to creating even if no one loves it.
This … is different than a career. This is different than making money. This is a passion. This is a life project I’ve been too scared to even explore, because I too would rather fail at something I like but ultimately don’t care that much about (design), then fail at something I’m incredibly connected to and passionate about.
That’s another layer to why the beast is so hard for me to slay. I’m connected to this. I’m not detached. And I know somehow I need to be. I need to be detached enough from this thing that I love to allow my work to fail BIG and be hated and scorched by the dragon so that it can one day be exactly what it needs to be.
I don’t want to suck. I don’t want to keep moving forward at something I’m not naturally good at. I don’t want to have to keep learning and relearning and struggling at this.
But this is where I am. And to be great I have to first embrace the suck. I have to embrace the fuck out of being awful. And work like hell to not be.
Slay the dragon or die trying
What else can I do?
This was the question that stopped the beast from winning today. And the answer is nothing.
I know in my soul I’m supposed to pursue writing if only for the reason that it is a dream I haven’t dared explore out of fear of failure. And if I know one thing about myself at all, it’s that I’d rather die knowing I pursued what my heart truly yearned for even if I failed at that pursuit, then die having never tried. So I can do nothing else but give this a shot.
I have to face the questions, the demons, the doubts until I can go no further. I have to vanquish the beast or die trying.
I am no hero. No warrior. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do next, I’m old and rusty and quite frankly, I’m bad at writing. I’m too damn wordy and I lose the fucking plot all the time.
But this is it. This is the part where it’s dark and uncomfortable and unclear.
Do I move forward knowing that what lies in front of me will be a painful, insane, overwhelming battle at the end of which I might have nothing to show for it but words and wounds?
Or do I look behind me at my known world and retreat to the safety of a pretty decent and enjoyable career that I know I’m good at?
Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if I get offered a promotion or a raise soon. Another enticement to retreat to the world I know so well and I’m semi-decent at. It seems to happen that way. Not only are we facing our demons and an arduous journey, but we’re also being tempted by shiny things that will satiate our hunger, validate our insecurities and keep us safe and dormant in a life that isn’t so bad.
The resistance is a calculating and insidious beast and he has devoured many.
I’ve seen the skeletons on the path to the dragon, those who failed before me. But … what if those bones are actually my bones? And no one else’s. This is my journey, after all … my dragon. And I have failed before. And I will fail again.
But each time I am reborn. Aren’t we all? Isn’t that the beauty of life? Isn’t that the beauty of words? To create, to heal, to transform? To bring to life what once was formless, ash, dust … even dead?
So today I took another step further into the dark woods, towards the beast I know I must fight. I don’t know that I won today … but I didn’t give up. I put the words down on paper even if they felt labored and all kinds of wrong.
Tomorrow I will get up and do the same.
She is risen. Again and again.
And she will slay this dragon or die trying.