The Battle of Creative Resistance

Why it’s so hard to show up for your art

Jan 22, 2019

Creativity Art Artist Habits
woman holds her head in palm and leans on wall

Photo by Carolina Heza

Let’s talk about resistance. Not the kind at the gym, but the creative type that artists all over the world experience and suffer through when initially faced with their calling to create. The one Steven Pressfield talks endlessly about in his writings. Let’s tackle that beast. Because it’s not talked about enough.

What is the best antidote to a messy house? Creative resistance. The quickest way to get everything on your to-do list crossed off? Creative resistance. No other time is my house more clean, organized, and tidy, or more of my errands complete, than when I’m putting off my creative work. It gets to the point where I walk around my house looking for things to clean or fix or organize. All the while with a sense of guilt and slight disgrace in the back of my mind, knowing what I’m avoiding. It’s productive and pathetic at the same time.

Of course there is the obvious and strikingly easy solution to ridding myself of this guilt — facing the blank page and actually creating. And yet, I will do almost anything else to dodge the work, including calling my retirement company from a previous employer to merge that account with my current retirement account and going through endless paperwork to make this happen (true story). That is some serious resistance.

In The War of Art, Pressfield says this of resistance:

Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. Resistance by definition is self-sabotage. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. [It] is the most toxic force on the planet. Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable. [It] aims to kill.

It is at once a part of us and a force outside of us following our every move in the direction of our calling. It waits quietly, and often not so quietly, to destroy our creative endeavors. It shows no mercy; it extends zero grace.

But Pressfield also says this, which gives me hope:

The more resistance you experience, the more important your unmanifested art/project/enterprise is to you — and the more gratification you will feel when you finally do it.

Sigh of relief. It is as if resistance wants to test our commitment to the work, like a drill sergeant at a SEALs training camp, pushing us to the end of our limits. Maybe it wants to see if we’re really cut out for the creative life and all its emotional ups and downs.

According to Pressfield, this feeling of resistance never really goes away, no matter how much work we produce or put out into the world. It simply is something we have to overcome, time and time again.

On one hand, this leaves me feeling discouraged and daunted, knowing this dark cloud will always follow me and keep poking. But on the other hand, the presence of resistance serves as a reminder that I’m on the right track, that I’m pursuing my calling. It lets me know I have something inside of me waiting to manifest, a creative seed waiting to germinate. And that is worth continuing to fight the battle, the war of art. Facing this resistance and doing my work is one minuscule step for mankind, but a massive step for little ol’ me.

When I think of laying on my deathbed — excuse the somber switch in tone — I hope I am not remembered for a clean and well-kept home (sorry Marie Kondo). Or for a lifetime of struggle with resistance that I never overcame. And especially not for all the things I managed to cross off my to-do list (as much satisfaction as that would bring). No, I hope I’m remembered for the words I wrote and shared, for any amount of light they shined into the lives of my fellow beings, and any truth from deep within me they drew out.

I wish I had the magic technique to give you on how to beat or even just face resistance, the guaranteed how-to. I wish I could say yours won’t be so bad, but an entire human history of creative ventures will prove that to be doubtful.

What I can tell you with certainty is this: if you feel called to do creative work, resistance will rear its ugly head. It will give you boundless energy to get everything else done in your life so that you have none left for your art. It will test your focus, your commitment, your stamina, and perhaps most of all — your ability to quiet the voices of the world and tune into your own. But when you do, when you push past resistance even for only a day and show up to the blank page, you will find something there that can’t be found anywhere else — the unique contribution only you were meant to make. And if you keep showing up, you find the parts of yourself you went looking for everywhere else.

Your art matters. Your voice matters. Your contribution is needed. Let your work see the light of day. It most certainly won’t cure cancer or end human trafficking, but it will feed your soul and inspire others to feed theirs. I can’t think of a higher form of self-care than doing our creative work.

And if you find yourself up against the wall of resistance with no fight left in you, remember Pressfield’s 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.” Surrender, just for that day, and extend yourself some grace. Then the next day, begin again. What else can you do? More dishes?

What has your battle with resistance been like? What do you do to combat it? I’d love to know; share in the comments.