4 Ways to Conquer Resistance, Procrastination and Fear in Writing
Lessons From the War of Art by Steven Pressfield
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.” — W. H. Murray
Most of us experience it: resistance to writing. To postpone it and to fear it.
When I read the wonderful book ‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield, it was like I internally flipped a switch. Be bold, do, sit down, face the scary cursor and write.
The book is about a change in your attitude towards creating. To accept that we fear and resist to create. That we rather rearrange our bookshelves according to color, watch another episode of Game of Thrones or let ourselves get absorbed by Youtube. It’s natural human behavior.
We can conquer our resistance to create, our fear, and even our procrastination. We are able to create anything worthy.
Let me share the lessons I took from the book with examples and tips I use in my own writing routine.
#1: Resistance and Procrastination
From the War of Art: “Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.
The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed.”
It’s not until we sit down and actually do the work that we are able to create. We create by doing, not by dreaming of doing. Sounds simple, right?
Then why is it often so damn difficult to do this? Why do we rather occupy ourselves with mundane tasks or mindless scrolling just not to create? Why do we resist it so much?
FEAR. Fear of failure, fear of producing something unworthy.
If we fail, we create an opportunity to learn. If we create something unworthy, we have exercised. Next time we just need to increase the weights.
By doing, we can change our lives. We can create whatever we want. There’s no right moment. There’s just doing.
How to overcome procrastination in terms of writing:
- Set goals: How many articles do you want to produce per month, per week? How many words do you have to write per day to finish a first draft of that 180,000-word novel?
- Schedule: Calculate and allocate your work according to your goals. Break them into weekly and daily goals. Carve out time in your calendar. Get up earlier if you have to — especially if you are “writing on the side”. Writing first thing in the morning has enabled me to consistently produce at least 1,000 words per day.
- Measure: Have you succeeded, did you reach your weekly and monthly goals? If not, what can you improve to actually attain them?
- Celebrate: Reached your goal? Celebrate. Relax. Go out. Have fun. Live.
#2: Resistance and Fear
From the War of Art: “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 our 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.”
Fear induces our resistance to create. However, fear has a positive side too. Often, what we fear most is the thing we actually SHOULD do.
Here’s Pressfield again: “Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.”
See your creative fears as obstacles that can be conquered. In the book “The Obstacle is the Way”, Ryan Holiday proposes that there is no end tot he obstacles thrown at us. For the sake of this article, I’m diving into the obstacles seemingly blocking our creative progress. But there will always be obstacles on the way, things you have to figure out, things you have to solve. The beauty is, once you conquered the obstacle and produced something, you experience a moment of bliss. You’ve created.
Sitting down every day to write is daunting. But if you break that cycle and do it every day, the obstacle of doing it becomes smaller and smaller.
“The obstacle becomes the way so you might as well enjoy it.” — Ryan Holiday
“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” — Somerset Maugham
#3: The Attitude of the Pro
From the War of Art: “The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps. To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it’s his vocation.
The amateur plays part-time, the professional full-time. The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week.
The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full-time. That’s what I mean when I say turning pro. Resistance hates it when we turn pro.”
I agree to some extent with Steven Pressfield on this. Not everyone is able to commit fulltime to a profession in the arts. You have your bills and your responsibilities. If you can’t live off of your writing (yet) or any other creative endeavor, then please don’t do pro immediately. Wait until you earn a decent living off of it too.
Besides, do you want to solely life off of your creative pursuit? Maybe you just like to stay a lawyer, marketer, or business owner. Perhaps your writing is just something you enjoy on the side, just like the income you take from it.
The path from amateur to pro is different for everybody. I think it’s more about your attitude than the whether or not you fully dive in. Test the waters.
If you allocate every free moment to your writing, to creating and growing, you already have the attitude of the pro in my book. You’re committing full-time.
#4: The Magic of Making a Start
“From the War of Art: Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would not otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manners of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have dreamed would come his way.”
Be bold. DO.
Want to write a song? WRITE it.
Want to get on stage and do stand up comedy? Go to an open mic night and PERFORM.
Want to finally use the paint and blank canvas you got for your birthday? PAINT your picture.
Do it for yourself (if you don’t need an audience). Create just for you. Create often and become better. Who knows, you might end up sharing it with the world some day.
Before you know it, you’re in over your head. And I mean that in a good way.
A year ago my website with short stories went live. Because I acted upon my dream (after years of the fear of “putting myself out there”).
What has ensued since then? A podcast, a consistent stream of short stories, blog posts sharing the lessons I’ve learned about writing, the making of friends, publishing a book. Once you do, you grow in confidence. Once you do, more will come your way. Grab the opportunities coming your way.
Stop resisting, play with your fear and move your obstacles. Stop procrastinating and DO.