I Almost Gave Up Writing — But Then I Doubled My Output
I didn’t tell anybody this, but a few weeks back, I hit my lowest point yet. How do I know it was the lowest point? It’s simple: I almost gave up writing.
I almost stopped doing something that has saved me from the turmoils of life for so many years. That has been my beacon, my “home” (as Liz Gilbert calls it), and my savior.
The reason? I was burned out. I was depressed. For several months in a row, I couldn’t make myself do anything. I will tell you why that happened in a second. But first, let me just provide you with some context.
This is coming from an extremely disciplined person.
For as long as I can remember, I was the most disciplined person I knew throughout school and the late teenage years. I often joked that I resembled the younger version of Jocko Willink (except that I didn’t wake up at 4:30 AM — that was too much even for me).
So when I couldn’t push myself to do anything, the bell rang: I knew something was off.
Partly it was because I blamed other people — my parents, my teachers, my mentors — for being so hard on me. Even though I was always extremely disciplined, I didn’t call myself that. Instead, I thought I was neurotic. And that I needed to “cure” myself through idleness and doing nothing.
“Do what you love!” self-help gurus say, “…and never do what you don’t want!”
But as any emotional person will tell you, if there’s no discipline — there’s nothing. When you’re in the business of doing creative work for a living, or you’re working for yourself, you have to discipline yourself. It’s simply a must. Otherwise, you will lie in bed all day and get depressed.
Human beings are wired to be working animals. Yes, there are endless promoters of cliche self-help ideas who preach, “We’re human beings, not human doings!”.
And yes, I am no Ph.D., but there is some kind of hormonal concoction that gets triggered when you get the work done. You need those hormones — as much as you need food, sex, water, and shelter. Having something to do is so primitive, it almost doesn’t matter what we do, as long as we stay productive and get high on it.
If you have no job, one must come up with some kind of job for herself — even if it’s highlighting favorite quotes from a book.
That’s exactly what I needed to do. But instead, I almost went the other way and took a break.
It’s not that I wanted to quit writing completely — I just wanted to take a short month-long break. If you’re reading this, it means that I didn’t publish that post, and I didn’t. Yay.
And while there’s nothing wrong with taking a break — I didn’t need it. No true writer needs it. Because our work nourishes us, defines us, and keeps us going. If it doesn’t — we should seek something else for a living.
But there’s one more point that’s more important than anything.
When we feel that we’re sinking, losing, and falling back, we need something besides idleness or rest. We need to find the discipline.
Because what we’re dealing with is a formidable enemy.
It’s called Resistance.
I used to think that Resistance — the negative force defined by Steven Pressfield in War Of Art as the killer for all creatives — is for beginners, amateurs, non-professionals. In his book, Steven warned me that Resistance aims to kill, destroy, and make you dysfunctional. Some people become drug addicts, while others, like me, get depressed.
But I thought that after a while, fighting Resistance becomes easier because you gain momentum. You turn pro.
It turns out; Resistance only gets stronger with time.
The more you become stronger as a creative — the Resistance is always there to counter-attack your newly built strength. It always keeps the level.
And just like the courageous is not the one who doesn’t feel fear but the one who acts despite fear — so is the professional defined not by the absence of Resistance but by learning how to cope and co-exist with it.
The only working antidote to Resistance is discipline. Work ethic. Sitting down every day — even on Sundays, even on your birthday, even on Donald Trump’s birthday — to fight another day.
Fighting Resistance is a battle that must be fought every day anew. The second you give up, let go, and fave the white flag of laziness, you’re done.
This happened to me: I was pushed off-balance by Resistance, and I almost gave up.
The only thing that can save a creative in such a position is to go the other way: counter-attack Resistance by becoming dedicated to their work.
All I needed to do was to buckle down, put my shit together, and work. I got quite lazy over the past few months. I didn’t need to take more breaks. Instead, I needed to return to myself. I need to go back to being a disciplined person — the person I was before I started doubting myself.
I needed to accept who I was. I needed to accept that discipline is what we need to fight off the Resistance. “Doing what you love” might be a good directive, but many people get it wrong. You can’t do anything productive — even if it’s something you love — unless there’s the natural friction caused by you chipping away and doing the work.
Of course, it was harder than it sounds. I hated the disciplined part of myself. I was ashamed of it. I thought I was too neurotic, too type-A, too structured. I was full of self-doubt. Resistance caused all of these emotions, and I didn’t realize it.
I wanted to be a free creative — someone like my father, my father’s friends, the people I saw online, or Steve Jobs for fuck’s sake (he was my childhood hero).
There are rarely clear “defining moments in life,” as they show us in the movies. In such moments, the main character suddenly realizes that he was doing it all wrong and changes for the better. You see a footage montage of days passing by, the calendars flipping, the character waking up earlier, running faster, working harder, until… he meets the girl of his dreams and marries and lives happily ever after.
But that’s not how it was for me.
When I was about to send off that email saying that I am taking a break from writing — something else happened, not less magical than what you get in the movies.
She was the one who sat down with me and said it bluntly, “Who the fuck do you think you are?!”
At first, I thought I misheard. I just sat there, staring at her in wide-eyed wonder and allowed her to continue.
“You’re not that special. Wake up, dude. Work. Earn something first. Go do shit.”
And if previously, I brushed off directives like that, labeling them as “yet another Soviet bullshit” — that day, for some reason, I took it to heart.
“Ok, grandma,” I said.
Then I excused myself, walked slowly to the bathroom, took a shit, washed my hands with a hand sanitizer (because there’s still COVID), splashed some water on my face, looked at myself in the mirror, and said,
“Ok, dude. Enough.”
It was the day a new me was born.
Now I realize that we can’t live, create, or be productive without discipline. Resistance uses all sorts of nasty tactics — convincing us that we’re in the wrong profession, making us jealous of others, whispering self-help bullshit in our ears. All of it is made to destroy us, to make us fall short of realizing our potential.
Unless we’re armed with allies that can help us win the fight, we’re doomed to fail.
All we need, as creatives, is to have a practice. Any practice — be it yoga, meditation, prayer, or doing creative work — has the following three traits:
- It has a dedicated space.
- It takes up time, at the same time each day.
- It is intentional. We come there to fight, be laser-focused, not to meddle with bullshit.
For me, the Daily Practice consists of a daily morning yoga workout (twenty minutes) and a two-hour writing session, during which I set a timer. I am usually done by 12–1 PM and can do other things, life, friends, and chores.
And surprisingly, most problems I had during the past few months — depression, lack of motivation, burn out — mysteriously faded away. I am now creating twice the output I used to — and I am happier, more satisfied, energetic than I ever was.
I am now back on track. But I am constantly on the lookout.
Because I know, Resistance is there, constantly waiting for me to slip.