“Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you. It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man.” (Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art,” page 9)
For the past three weeks, I put off writing the last chapter on my novel. Instead, I:
- rearranged my entire office
- cleaned out all the closets
- organized the children’s clothing
- put together donation boxes of gently used items
- tried three new recipes
- changed my fingernail polish three times
- saw four movies
- read two books
- cleared out a photo album
- downloaded new ebooks to my Kindle Fire
- redid my kanban board for work
- deep-cleaned my bedroom
- played around with new technology
- programmed my DVR player for a week
All that instead of writing that one final chapter, even though I already had planned it out. But why was I putting it off? I don’t procrastinate at work. I write fiction almost every day at the crack of dawn. So, what was going on?
Treat Resistance Like Bertha Rochester
After three weeks of dawdling, I felt ridiculous. How many times can you tell your writing-group sister, “I’m almost done!” before you sound like a procrastinating idiot?
“Finish this flipping scene,” I told myself aloud and turned on my laptop. “I don’t care about making excuses anymore. I don’t care about what’s happening in the future. You warm up those fingers, put them on the keyboard, and finish off this damn book already.”
And so, I shoved Resistance into the attic, locked up the door, sat down and wrote, even though Resistance howled from the attic that no one would ever read it, no one would ever want my novel, that writing is a waste of time, that this or that. And the more Resistance wailed, the more I wrote.
“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.” (Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art,” page 40)
Face Your Fears (Even if They Are Ridiculous)
On Monday, January 30, 2012, I finished my second novel. Finally. After five years on a writing roller coaster, complete with upheaval, drama, sorrow, joy, and even a very difficult pregnancy, I put the final word on page 323.
At the best little wine bar in the world, my writing sister and I celebrated the end of the first draft and toasted the subsequent revisions. But then, I started mulling over why I had resisted finishing the novel.
I realized a few things:
- It’s hard to say goodbye to beloved characters. You’ve loved and hated these people for the duration of the first draft. Now, suddenly, it’s like you’ve moved to a new town and can only think of them from afar. Sure, I’ll still see them around, we’ll bump into one another, but the close day-to-day living with them is gone.
- A written novel demands action. You can mess around thinking, “Oh, I’m going to write a book someday” but when you have a completed novel, you need to take it seriously, get your ass in gear, rewrite it, rewrite it, rewrite it, etc., and then send it out into the cold cruel world.
- The hard part is coming up. Revising is my favorite part of the writing process, but it’s also the hardest. In writing, you can daydream a little more, let the fingers fly, and play. Revising a novel is Serious Work. You need to pay extra attention to everything: sentence structure, word choice, continuity, plot, etc.
- Failing is rougher when you have two novels finished. My first novel is still languishing in an editor’s inbox somewhere. Now, suddenly, I have another novel that will be completely edited by year’s end. Somehow, having two unpublished novels strikes me as more cringe-worthy than one. With one unpublished novel, you can shrug it off as “something fun” you do off your “bucket list.” With two unpublished novels, you are admitting that you are taking this published novelist dream seriously. And it’s sadder if you fail.
- I think stupid things sometimes. I admit that the bullet point above this one is ridiculous. Who the hell cares? It doesn’t matter. Writers write. Writers work hard. And you just keeping moving forward.
- The reality of finishing a novel isn’t romantic. People who don’t write have strange ideas about the process. That’s why there are so many odd movies about writers (such as Limitless or 2012). People who say, “I should write a book some day!” think that, once they sit down and actually write that book, the book will sell itself, make itself a best-seller, market itself, and bring untold riches, fame, popularity, love, and eternal happiness to their life. Or, at the very least, give them a lot of money. But it won’t. You’ll finish your book, be proud as punch, drink glasses of cabernet with your writing buddy, and then toil away once more in the quiet solitude that is the novel-writing dream. And that’s all right.