A Force to Be Reckoned With

When resistance shows up in the creative process

Feb 25, 2023

Creative Process Writing Art Life Purpose Battles
gray stainless steel armor

Photo by Nik Shuliahin

It was when I found myself cleaning my vacuum filters in my kitchen sink that I knew something was definitely off. I had spent the last month deep cleaning, organizing, and decluttering every inch of our home. House projects typically reserved for once a year suddenly made their way to the top of my to-do list. I took the concept of a “life admin day” and turned it into a “life admin month,” taking care of those tedious, nagging tasks that wind up on the backburner but need to get done. I became obsessed with checking more and more things off the list, eventually doing things that hadn’t even made it on the list yet.

Sewing ripped parts of a bed cover, dusting the top of our fridge, cleaning out a basement closet, reorganizing our garage and pantry, deep cleaning the oven, washing our throws, removing the lint off my sweaters with my fabric shaver (so satisfying)… the list was endless, and endlessly ridiculous in the short timespan. Sure, I was extremely productive, but something felt off while I was engaging in these activities. Like I was using them merely to avoid something else. It was a restless feeling, one of not being able to relax. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew I was not in the right headspace. And Mercury wasn’t even in retrograde, so I knew that couldn’t be the culprit.

As I eventually checked everything off my list (and then some) and found myself scrounging for more to do — more areas to dust, more items to declutter, more cabinets to organize — I was forced to stop and face whatever was causing this restlessness in my bones. I knew I couldn’t keep going at this pace. It was obvious I was running from something, avoiding it like the plague.

When I began to reflect on what was contributing to my productive madness, I realized the previous month I had been creatively consistent, extremely committed to my craft — writing multiple times a week, posting a blog weekly, doing research to get better at social media marketing, engaging more on my Instagram and Twitter accounts, designing my website, and working on my book. I had set goals for myself that I was actually meeting, leading to building habits that benefited me and my art. I was becoming the type of writer I had always longed to be and was finally taking my art more seriously. Above all, I had actually begun believing in myself and my ability to take my writing to the “next level.”

And this is why it showed up, suddenly sidetracking me and putting my focus elsewhere, on more “urgent” matters. What is “it”? None other than good-old-fashioned Resistance. Steven Pressfield talks at length about this concept for creatives in his many books, the foremost being The War of Art. He describes Resistance as a negative force in the world that keeps us from fulfilling our dreams. Its aim is to do everything it can to distract us from doing our work. It comes in many forms, according to Pressfield — fear, self-doubt, procrastination, addiction, distraction, self-loathing, perfectionism — to name a few. And it just.doesn’t.quit.

Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

~Steven Pressfield

I have dealt with Resistance my entire writing life, but this was probably the strongest bout of it, which made sense to me given the commitment I made to go all in. The stronger our wholehearted desire to produce creative work and put it out into the world, coupled with our execution of that desire, the more aggressive the force of Resistance will be. It’s like it knows that when we become serious, it needs to pull out all the stops. I knew I needed to dust off my old copy of The War of Art and reread it immediately.

The subtitle of his book is “Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.” Aptly named, because it truly feels like an internal battle. Sometimes we will win, but often we lose. We give in to the distraction, to the tempting call to not sit down and work on our art. Anything and everything else seems more important, like deep cleaning our oven. Or buying new curtains. Or scheduling every doctor’s appointment under the sun. As long as Resistance can keep us from showing up, it has won. And we are left to bandage our battle wounds.

But there is good news. Pressfield says Resistance can be beaten and he includes a section in his book on combatting it. Essentially, he says we need to become “pro,” the opposite of an amateur. Someone who continues to show up despite how many times Resistance has knocked them down.

When we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose.

~Steven Pressfield

Sounds easy, but it gets harder with each fall. Giving up is so much easier, and less painful. The world is filled with artists that forfeited their calling, thanks to Resistance. We inhabit a world full of unpainted murals, unsung melodies, unwritten novels. All the art that could have been.

As soon as I came to this realization, something in me calmed down. That sense of urgency dissipated and I didn’t have a hankering to clean or organize anything. Either way, there was nothing left to clean. The block was lifted as soon as I named it. One small step for mankind, one huge step for little ol’ me. It was a relief; the calm after the needless storm.

As disconcerting as the experience was the past month, it did also reveal something vital to me in the process. It gave me the creative affirmation I did not even know I was seeking — that this work matters to me, that it’s something I want to commit to, and that I was meant to do it. Resistance taught me that I’m a force to be reckoned with. Why else would it try so hard to stop me from creating unless it knew I had something important to say? Something of value to create? The same is true for any artist. This is not about being special; this is about doing the work we were put on earth to do. The work only we each can uniquely produce.

We’re facing dragons too. Fire-breathing griffins of the soul, whom we must outfight and outwit to reach the treasure of our self-in-potential and to release the maiden who is God’s plan and destiny for ourselves and the answer to why we were put on this planet.

~Steven Pressfield

I’m ready to “release the maiden,” one keystroke at a time. She has been waiting a long time to reach the treasure. Any creative pursuit assumed earnestly will be filled with days spent fighting off dragons. This is the life we sign up for, willingly. Why? For the love of the craft, hopefully. To leave something meaningful behind. To put out something into the world that breaks our hearts open in the best way possible. “That the powerful play goes on, and [we] may contribute a verse.”

Resistance might never go away, but we can choose to continue showing up.

Continue fighting this war of art and winning our inner creative battles. Because as strong as this force may be, there are stronger ones coming to our aid when we engage passionately in our creative work. They sit at our side, wings hovering, cheering us on. They want nothing more than for us to beat Resistance and birth our offering into the world. Will the world go on without another song, another poem, another painting? Absolutely. But will your soul be able to go on if you don’t bring forth what’s deep inside of you that is longing for expression? Because, as N.H. Kleinbaum said in Dead Poets Society, “we don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute… poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”