Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

Showing Up

on February 25, 2014

typewriter

I’ve been reading a lot of books lately both by and about writers. A good friend recommended “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield to me some months ago in response to an entry in this very blog. I found a little book by Margaret Atwood titled “Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing” when I went looking for the Pressfield book. Last week I purchased Stephen King’s “On Writing” and finished it in one sitting. Each of these books has been revelatory in their own way, and each has helped me shape my thinking around what it means to be a writer. They have also shown me that the struggle I face is the same one every person who wants to be a writer faces at some point or another.

Mr. Pressfield talks about a force he calls “Resistance”; a natural force that actively works against us when we pursue our passions. Some might call this power self-destructiveness, some might call it evil, some might even ascribe its workings to those of Satan and his tempters – whatever you call it, the end result is the same, which is that a constant war is being waged against us when we strive to achieve something noble or purposeful in life. We meet no resistance if we choose to pursue activities that are not aimed at making the world a better place or creating beauty; that we can easily do. It’s only when we reach higher that we run into this Resistance.

Mr. Pressfield doesn’t try to explain why this happens; that’s something best left to theologians and philosophers. He knows it doesn’t matter why. The only thing that matters is that we recognize how Resistance works and we find ways to combat it. The one sure way he knows to fight it is to show up, every day, whether you feel like it or not.

Stephen King says much the same thing. His tenacity as a young writer was truly impressive; he kept at it and never lost his joy, even in the face of what others would consider to be overwhelming evidence that he was never going to make his living as a writer. He talks about his process as well as the process used by other writers. The thing they all have in common is that they keep showing up.

What do I mean by showing up? I mean just that – showing up and doing the work. Being counted as present. Having your mind and your body focused on the same task at the same time. Living on purpose. Not getting distracted. Not buying into all the excuses readily available that keep us from doing what we were meant to do – big excuses and little ones.

“I have a cold” is an excellent excuse to shut off my computer and go upstairs and take a nap. I’ve thought about doing just that at least a dozen times today, because I do have a cold. The truth is, I don’t really feel all that bad today. I did feel badly yesterday and spent most of the afternoon in bed. But today, Monday, I’m here. I’ve done the work I needed to do for the day, and I decided I would take a few minutes to work on my blog entry that I usually post on Tuesdays. As soon as I opened a new, blank document on my screen a little voice said “This can wait – you can do this tomorrow. Why don’t you go take a nap? All your other work is done; you deserve to take a break. You’ll feel better if you take a nap now. Don’t you have a conference call at 9:00 tonight? Go – it’ll be fine. You have a cold, after all!” I almost gave in to that voice, the voice of my Resistance. She’s good; she makes sense. She may even be right about some things sometimes. But she’s always on at me about how I deserve to “take a break”. That’s how she gets me, through my own sense of pride in what I’ve accomplished. Look at what I’ve done today! Isn’t that awesome! I deserve to knock off now and go watch some TV! I’ve earned it!

It is extremely difficult for me to persuade myself that I don’t deserve something I deem to be a “reward” for my hard work. To view “taking a break” as a negative thing when I’ve been going at it non-stop for hours. To convince myself to keep going when I believe I am entitled to shut down and goof off. But I see now what these writers are talking about – you have to keep going, even when you don’t want to. You can’t sit around waiting to be in the mood, or for your muse to show up, or for circumstances to be perfect. Stephen King wrote “Carrie” in the laundry room of a double-wide trailer on a typewriter he balanced on a child’s desk on his lap. I’ve told ten people that story since I read it because it just blows me away. That’s showing up. I don’t actually like Stephen King’s novels (I don’t enjoy horror as a genre – it scares me), but the guy knows how to write.

I feel like I’ve taken a good first step towards showing up every day. Months ago when I was contemplating starting this blog I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the commitment. What if I don’t know what to write about? What if I can’t post something every week? The thought of committing myself to a weekly deadline intimidated me and I almost didn’t do it. Obviously I changed my mind, because here we are nine months later, and I’m still going. The surprise to me has been that it hasn’t been as difficult as I had feared to banish the Resistance and file an entry every week. I’m encouraged by that.

I’ve started writing a novel based on events that happened in my own life many years ago. I’ve never made a serious attempt to write fiction, so it is even more intimidating to me than committing to this blog was. I’m finding that the writing is slow, almost painful; I’m reliving my life through the lives of the characters I’m creating, and it’s bringing up all sorts of deeply buried memories. I’m feeling a huge amount of Resistance to the work, and I’m giving in almost all the time. The battle is being fought every day. Most days I lose, but bit by bit I’m getting my feet under me. Everything I’ve read and everything I’ve discovered on my own tells me that the most effective weapon in the fight is just showing up. So, even when I don’t feel “ready”, I sit down at my computer and open the document. Almost fearing what I’ll find, I re-read a page or two to remind myself where I am. Next I think about the characters – who they are and what they want.

Then I close my eyes and start typing. That’s showing up.

***********

Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

photo credit: Jeremy Brooks via photopin cc

Advertisements

2 responses to “Showing Up

  1. Timothy Pike, freelance copy editor says:

    I enjoyed Pressfield’s book. Resistance can be an insidious force, and I like how he personifies it. I also like all the stuff he wrote about finding your muse!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: