There's a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don't, and the secret is this: It's not the writing part that's hard. What's hard is sitting down to write.
THE UNLIVED LIFE
Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.
You think Resistance isn't real? Resistance will bury you. You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. Call it overstatement but I'll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.
RESISTANCE IS IMPLACABLE
Resistance is like the Alien or the Terminator or the shark in Jaws. It cannot be reasoned with.
RESISTANCE IS IMPERSONAL
Resistance is not out to get you personally. It doesn't know who you are and doesn't care. Resistance is a force of nature.
RESISTANCE IS INFALLIBLE
Resistance will unfailingly point to true North meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing.
We can use this. We can use it as a compass. We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or action that we must follow before all others.
RESISTANCE NEVER SLEEPS
Fear doesn't go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates the battle must be fought anew every day.
RESISTANCE PLAYS FOR KEEPS
Resistance aims to kill. Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give and that no one else has but us. Resistance means business. When we fight it, we are in a war to the death.
RESISTANCE IS FUELED BY FEAR
We feed it with power by our fear of it.
Master that fear and we conquer Resistance.
RESISTANCE AND PROCRASTINATION
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."
RESISTANCE AND PROCRASTINATION, PART TWO
We don't just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed.
Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny.
This second, we can sit down and do our work.
RESISTANCE AND TROUBLE
The working artist will not tolerate trouble in her life because she knows trouble prevents her from doing her work.
RESISTANCE AND CRITICISM
Individuals who are realized in their own lives almost never criticize others. If they speak at all, it is to offer encouragement.
RESISTANCE AND SELF-DOUBT
The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
RESISTANCE AND FEAR
The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul.
Fear shows you what you have to do.
RESISTANCE AND BEING A STAR
The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come.
RESISTANCE AND HEALING
I washed up in New York a couple of decades ago, making twenty bucks a night driving a cab and running away fulltime from doing my work. One night, alone in my $110-a-month sublet, I hit bottom in terms of having diverted myself into so many phony channels so many times that I couldn't rationalize it for one more evening. I dragged out my ancient Smith-Corona, dreading the experience as pointless, fruitless, meaningless, not to say the most painful exercise I could think of. For two hours I made myself sit there, torturing out some trash that I chucked immediately into the shitcan. That was enough. I put the machine away. I went back to the kitchen. In the sink sat ten days of dishes. For some reason I had enough excess energy that I decided to wash them. The warm water felt pretty good. The soap and sponge were doing their thing. A pile of clean plates began rising in the drying rack. To my amazement I realized I was whistling.
It hit me that I had turned a corner.
I was okay.
I would be okay from here on.
Do you understand? I hadn't written anything good. It might be years before I would, if I ever did at all. That didn't matter. What counted was that I had, after years of running from it, actually sat down and done my work.
RESISTANCE AND RATIONALIZATION
Rationalization is Resistance's right-hand man. Its job is to keep us from feeling the shame we would feel if we truly faced what cowards we are for not doing our work.
PROFESSIONALS AND AMATEURS
Aspring artists defeated by Resistance share one trait. They think like amateurs. They have not yet turned pro.
The moment an artist turns pro is epochal. With one stroke, everything changes.
The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps.
The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week.
Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. "I write only when inspiration strikes," he replied. "Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp."
That's a pro.
WHAT A WRITER'S DAY FEELS LIKE
I wake up with a gnawing sense of dissatisfaction. Already I feel fear.
What I am aware of is Resistance. I feel it in my guts. I afford it the utmost respect, because I know it can defeat me on any given day as easily as the need for a drink can overcome an alcoholic.
What's important is the work. That's the game I have to suit up for. That's the field on which I have to leave everything I've got.
The sun isn't up yet; it's cold; the fields are sopping. Brambles scratch my ankles, branches snap back in my face. The hill is a sonofabitch but what can you do? Set one foot in front of another and keep climbing.
The years have taught me one skill: how to be miserable. I know how to shut up and keep humping.
FOR LOVE OF THE GAME
The writer is an infantryman. He knows that progress is measured in yards of dirt extracted from the enemy one day, one hour, one minute at at time and paid for in blood. Remember, the Muse favors working stiffs. She hates prima donnas. To think of yourself as a mercenary, a gun for hire, implants the proper humility. It purges pride and preciousness.
A PROFESSIONAL IS PATIENT
He conserves his energy. He prepares his mind for the long haul.
A PROFESSIONAL DEMYSTIFIES
A pro views her work as craft, not art. So she concentrates on technique. The professional shuts up. She doesn't talk about it. She does her work.
A PROFESSIONAL ACTS IN THE FACE OF FEAR
The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.
A PROFESSIONAL ACCEPTS NO EXCUSES
The amateur, underestimating Resistance's cunning, permits the flu to keep him from his chapters. The professional has learned better. He knows that if he caves in today, he'll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow.
The professional knows that Resistance is like a telemarketer; if you so much as say hello, you're finished. The professional doesn't even pick up the phone. He stays at work.
THE PROFESSIONAL PLAYS IT AS IT LIES
Adversity, injustice, bad hops and rotten calls, even good breaks and lucky bounces, all comprise the ground over which the campaign must be waged.
A PROFESSIONAL IS PREPARED
The professional prepares mentally to absorb blows and to deliver them. His aim is to take what the day gives him. He is prepared to be prudent and prepared to be reckless, to take a beating when he has to, and to go for the throat when he can.
A PROFESSIONAL DOES NOT SHOW OFF
A professional doesn't let his style grandstand for him. His style serves the material.
This doesn't mean that the professional doesn't throw down a 360 tomahawk jam from time to time, just to let the boys know he's still in business.
A PROFESSIONAL DEDICATES HIMSELF TO MASTERING TECHNIQUE
The professional respects his craft. He does not consider himself superior to it. He recognizes the contributions of those who have gone before him.
The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitue for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come.
A PROFESSIONAL DOES NOT TAKE FAILURE (OR SUCCESS) PERSONALLY
Editors are not the enemy; critics are not the enemy. Resistance is the enemy. The battle is inside our own heads.
The professional loves her work. She is invested in it wholeheartedly. But she does not forget that the work is not her. Her artistic self contains many works and many performances. Already the next one is percolating inside her. The next will be better, and the one after that better still.
The professional is tough-minded. She assesses her stuff coldly and objectively. Where it fell short, she'll improve it. Where it triumphed, she'll make it better still. She'll work harder. She'll be back tomorrow.
A PROFESSIONAL ENDURES ADVERSITY
I had been in Tinseltown five years, had finished nine screenplays on spec, none of which had sold.
The professional reminds himself it's better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be up in the stands or out in the parking lot.
A PROFESSIONAL SELF-VALIDATES
The professional cannot allow the actions of others to define his reality. Tomorrow morning the critic will be gone, but the writer will still be there facing the blank page. Nothing matters but that he keep working.
A CRITTER THAT KEEPS COMING
The pro keeps coming on. He beats Resistance at its own game by being even more resolute and even more implacable than it is.
APPROACHING THE MYSTERY
The most important thing about art is work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.
This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don't. When we sit down every day and do our work, power concentrates around us.
What I call Professionalism someone else might call the Artist's Code or the Warrior's Way.
INVOKING THE MUSE
In my late twenties I rented a little house in Northern California; I had gone there to finish a novel or kill myself trying. By that time I had blown up a marriage to a girl I loved with all my heart, screwed up two careers, blah blah etc.
In my little house I had no TV. I never read a newspaper or went to a movie. I just worked.
I worked for twenty-six months straight, taking only two out for a stint of migrant labor in Washington State, and finally I got to the last page and typed out:
Next morning I went over to Paul's for coffee and told him I had finished. "Good for you," he said without looking up. "Start the next one today."