Book 1: Resistnace
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. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.
Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.
The enemy is a very good teacher. — the Dalai Lama
In other words, any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity. Or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower. Any of these will elicit Resistance.
Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole.
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.
The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.
Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it. Master that fear and we conquer Resistance.
The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight. At this point, Resistance knows we're about to beat it. It hits the panic button. It marshals one last assault and slams us with everything it's got.
The awakening artist must be ruthless, not only with herself but with others. Once you make your break, you can't turn around for your buddy who catches his trouser leg on the barbed wire.
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 turn the tables on Resistance.
The working artist will not tolerate trouble in her life because she knows trouble prevents her from doing her work. The working artist banishes from her world all sources of trouble. She harnesses the urge for trouble and transforms it in her work.
The acquisition of a condition lends significance to one's existence. An illness, a cross to bear. Some people go from condition to condition; they cure one, and another pops up to take its place. The condition becomes a work of art in itself, a shadow version of the real creative act the victim is avoiding by expending so much care cultivating his condition.
The artist and the fundamentalist arise from societies at differing stages of development. The artist is the advanced model. His culture possesses affluence, stability, enough excess of resource to permit the luxury of self-examination.
Fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive. There is no such thing as fundamentalist art. This does not mean that the fundamentalist is.
The paradox seems to be, as Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.
The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
The professional tackles the project that will make him stretch. He takes on the assignment that will bear him into uncharted waters, compel him to explore unconscious parts of himself. Is he scared? Hell, yes. He's petrified. (Conversely, the professional turns down roles that he's done before. He's not afraid of them anymore. Why waste his time?) So if you're paralyzed with fear, it's a good sign. It shows you what you have to do.
Friends sometimes ask, "Don't you get lonely sitting by yourself all day?" At first it seemed odd to hear myself answer No. Then I realized that I was not alone; I was in the book; I was with the characters. I was with my Self.
Even in a book like this, which has no characters, I don't feel alone because I'm imagining the reader, whom I conjure as an aspiring artist much like my own younger, less grizzled self, to whom I hope to impart a little starch and inspiration and prime, a little, with some hard-knocks wisdom and a few tricks of the trade.
Book 2: Combatting Resistance
The amateur, on the other hand, overidentifies with his avocation, his artistic aspiration. He defines himself by it. He is a musician, a painter, a playwright. Resistance loves this. Resistance knows that the amateur composer will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and overterrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyzes him.
Resistance outwits the amateur with the oldest trick in the book: It uses his own enthusiasm against him.
The professional cannot live like that. He is on a mission. He will not tolerate disorder. He eliminates chaos from his world in order to banish it from his mind. He wants the carpet vacuumed and the threshold swept, so the Muse may enter and not soil her gown.
The professional masters how, and leaves what and why to the gods. Like Somerset Maugham she doesn't wait for inspiration, she acts in anticipation of its apparition. The professional is acutely aware of the intangibles that go into inspiration. Out of respect for them, she lets them work. She grants them their sphere while she concentrates on hers.
The professional has learned better. He respects Resistance. He knows if he caves in today, no matter how plausible the pretext, 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 pro doesn't even pick up the phone. He stays at work.
The field is level, the professional understands, only in heaven.
Fear of rejection isn't just psychological; it's biological. It's in our cells.
He understood that, no matter what blow had befallen him from an outside agency, he himself still had his job to do, the shot he needed to hit right here, right now. And he knew that it remained within his power to produce that shot.
Tomorrow morning the critic will be gone, but the writer will still be there facing the blank page.
The professional learns to recognize envy-driven criticism and to take it for what it is: the supreme compliment. The critic hates most that which he would have done himself if he had had the guts.
We make up our minds to view ourselves as pros and we do it. Simple as that.
Book 3: Beyond Resistance
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."
Eternity is in love with the creations of time. – William Blake
By Blake's model, as I understand it, it's as though the Fifth Symphony existed already in that higher sphere, before Beethoven sat down and played dah-dah-dah-DUM. The catch was this: The work existed only as potential — without a body, so to speak. It wasn't music yet. You couldn't play it. You couldn't hear it.
He brought it forth. He made the Fifth Symphony a "creation of time," which "eternity" could be "in love with." So that eternity, whether we conceive of it as God, pure consciousness, infinite intelligence, omniscient spirit, or if we choose to think of it as beings, gods, spirits, avatars — when "it" or "they" hear somehow the sounds of earthly music, it brings them joy. In other words, Blake agrees with the Greeks. The gods do exist. They do penetrate our earthly sphere.
I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets: "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.
What does it tell us about the architecture of our psyches that, without our exerting effort or even thinking about it, some voice in our head pipes up to counsel us (and counsel us wisely) on how to do our work and live our lives? Whose voice is it? What software is grinding away, scanning gigabytes, while we, our mainstream selves, are otherwise occupied?
The principle of organization is built into nature. Chaos itself is self-organizing. Out of primordial disorder, stars find their orbits; rivers make their way to the sea. When we, like God, set out to create a universe — a book, an opera, a new business venture — the same principle kicks in. Our screenplay resolves itself into a three-act structure; our symphony takes shape into movements; our plumbing-supply venture discovers its optimum chain of command.
This is why artists are modest. They know they're not doing the work; they're just taking dictation.
The Self wishes to create, to evolve. The Ego likes things just the way they are.
Have you ever wondered why the slang terms for intoxication are so demolition-oriented? Stoned, smashed, hammered. It's because they're talking about the Ego. It's the Ego that gets blasted, waxed, plastered. We demolish the Ego to get to the Self.
In the hierarchy, the artist looks up and looks down. The one place he can't look is that place he must: within.
When the hack sits down to work, he doesn't ask himself what's in his own heart. He asks what the market is looking for.
I trusted what I wanted, not what I thought would work. I did what I myself thought was interesting, and left its reception to the gods.
How can we tell if our orientation is territorial or hierarchical? One way is to ask ourselves, If I were feeling really anxious, what would I do? If we would pick up the phone and call six friends, one after the other, with the aim of hearing their voices and reassuring ourselves that they still love us, we're operating hierarchically. We're seeking the good opinion of others.
If you're all alone on the planet, a hierarchical orientation makes no sense. There's no one to impress. So, if you'd still pursue that activity, congratulations. You're doing it territorially.
The sustenance they get comes from the act itself, not from the impression it makes on others.
We must do our work for its own sake, not for fortune or attention or applause.
To acknowledge that reality, to efface all ego, to let the work come through us and give it back freely to its source, that, in my opinion, is as true to reality as it gets.
Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It's a gift to the world and every being in it. Don't cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you've got.