Overcoming Resistance in Your Creative Life

December 9, 2015


Above: Selfie made looking in the bathroom mirror, sketching with a Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, on Nideggen (in a handmade journal that's about 7 1/2 inches square). (Text obscured for privacy.) Vertigo or not, I'm going to sketch every day. It keeps me tuned up for those days when I can really pull out all the stops. And it makes me savor and appreciate the non-vertigo days even more. It also fosters an appreciation for what you can do in "less than ideal" circumstances. I'm not a believer in ideal circumstances. I'm a believer in doing. Now. (And yes it was excruciating standing there sketching that hair, but if I can do that when I have vertigo there really isn't any reason I can't sketch, unless of course I have a gapping wound [which regular blog readers will remember is one of only two reasons permissible, in this house, for missing an exercise workout].)

In class after class, I find the number one issue students face is getting past their internal critics. It’s that internal voice who tells them their work is crap, their ideas even crappier. It’s that internal voice who undercuts effort and prevents them from building momentum in their drawing practice. And we all know if you don’t put in the time you don’t see improvement in your skill set. And you don’t move towards your artistic goals.

I spend a lot of time in my journaling and sketching classes talking about these issues and explaining ways for students to silence that internal critic.

I don’t expect them to all “get it” over night. I expect that they’ll take the concepts I present and work with them and fail now and then, and get up, dust themselves off, and get going again. But I do believe it is possible to have a creative life unhampered by constant interruptions from the internal critic.

To help reinforce these ideas going forward I always suggest students read books that I believe clearly identify ways to neutralize the internal critic’s impact on the creative process.

Last October I wrote a post about the fear that stops some people. And I listed some books I think are excellent at the end of that post.

Recently I was discussing this issue with some online students. I recommended that one of them read Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art.” When I went to look it up to send her a link I saw that Pressfield had been busy writing other books in the same vein.

“Do the Work,” is a short, punch-filled book that you will read very quickly (perhaps in one sitting) but think about long after you’ve set it down.

That’s why I’m recommending it to you.

I believe Pressfield’s writing on this topic is the best there is. In “Do the Work,” as in “The War of Art,” Pressfield again calls out “Resistance” for what it is, in all its various permutations. His concrete examples of what at first might look like benign wavering, all clearly show how you’re allowing yourself to be derailed. 

If you find the concept of an “internal critic” too clinical, or you feel you can’t identify a particular “voice,” or you find the term too personalized and therefore difficult to separate from yourself, start thinking in terms of Resistance instead.

You will have some uncomfortable moments as you read his books and see some of your recent actions mirrored back at you. If so, dust yourself off and get going again.

“Do the Work” is meant to coach you through the completion of a project. I recommend you start with it, whether or not you have a project you’re currently working on. (Of course you do though, don’t you?).

Take an afternoon on a weekend and read it. Think about it. Start a new project using it as a guide to keep you on track.

Then read “The War of Art” (or reread it). And absorb it. It will probably take you longer, and stretch into the week.

Between the two books you’ll come away with a clear and concrete idea of what you’ve been facing: Resistance.

And you’ll have more than a glimmer of how to overcome it.

There are many ways to come at any issue we face or any habit we are trying to alter. That’s true of Resistance. You will clear up one impediment only to find another beneath it. You might have to try a few approaches before you actually “get it.” But if you keep addressing the issue of Resistance you will have an “ah-ha” moment that will lead you to greater momentum and productivity.

Whether you’re working on the great American novel or simply want to sketch more frequently for your own enjoyment Pressfield’s books will help you look at what’s stopping you from meeting your goals.

    • Louise
    • December 9, 2015

    Roz, Love this post. I have ‘The War Of Art’ and will look for ‘Do The Work’.

    Regarding vertigo … in case this info might be helpful for you or someone else. I had vertigo for years. The Rx Antivert would stop it, but it would take me three days to get over the Antivert. Decades later, a wonderful M.D. asked if any of ‘those doctors’ had ever told me that Antivert is an antihistamine. She said something got you, meaning an allergy or sensitivity. Now, if I feel an episode of vertigo coming on, I take an antihistamine (over-the-counter) immediately which stops the progression. I carry the non-drowsy kind in my car. I also have a pretty good idea now about what can bring on my vertigo reaction, so I rarely have it. I know there are many individual reasons or causes for vertigo. This is just my personal experience in case it might be helpful. It is a miserable symptom. May you feel better very soon.

    • billby
    • February 22, 2016

    Hi Roz,
    About vertigo. I bet you have tried everything. My wife has had it recurring for years and years and Antivert wouldn’t do it. Recently her ENT used the “Eppley” maneuver on her and it worked. The vertigo still comes and goes but , much less strongly and often repeating the Eppley helps. bill b.

  1. Reply

    Thanks for caring bill, but it’s caused by a very specific thing that we know now, and it isn’t helped by special movements. I just keep sketching. And I actually have to say, in a perverse way it seems normal now.

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