Thursday, June 19, 2008

Writers and Resistance

Below, Eleanor asks about writer resistance (to writing/finishing). I started to answer in comments than realized I had a lot to say on the subject.

My basic answer is that I think it varies from writer to writer and it's really 3 phenomena that can act individually or in concert.

1. I'm notism. As in, I'm not inspired. Or, I'm not having fun. Or, I'm not feeling about this piece like a feel when I'm really writing.

This is the one that I am most subject to, because most of the time when I'm writing I'm having a blast and feeling inspired. Except, sometimes I'm not because sometimes writing is really hard unpleasant work. So, I'm not feeling terribly inspired and like a ninny I wait for things to happen instead of making them happen. Then I remember that doesn't really work for me and I make things happen.

I'm notism is why I'm writing 2 books a year instead of 3 or 4. My actual writing time for a novel is between 2-1/2 and 4 months, while completion time is around 5-7 months because there's a lot of dead time in the process, sometimes weeks in a row.

2. Perfectionist control-freakism. In this case the writer isn't willing to finish the work because some portion of it isn't up to their current standards, and (A) damned if they're going to let anything go out the door that isn't exactly as it should be, and (B) they can damn well control the quality of their work at all times.

The problem with this one is that it is a falsehood rooted in the truth of the writer's experience. Most writers get better with age and practice. Experience plus improved craft tends to equal better writing. So, as you get older you see how much better a job you could have done on earlier work. This leads to hanging onto things longer and longer in hopes that you will figure out how to do it better, because you know you will.

But, if you don't let go of anything it never gets to readers who can teach you things, and you never sell anything which means you don't get to focus on your writing as much as you could if you were a high-selling professional, and you don't improve as much as you might if you would just learn to let go. And, even more than that, the way to grow is to always try to write so that you're reach exceeds your grasp. If you don't fail in little ways in a piece, it means you're probably not attempting something that's at the level you should be shooting for.

3. I suckism. This is the conviction that whatever piece your working on is awful and you hate it and no one will ever want to buy it and if you're foolish enough to send it out your agent, editor, readers, friends, family etc. will all decide the you are a fraud and should never have started writing in the first place.

In response you hide in a dark room and don't write because if you don't write it, it can't suck. Or, if you don't finish it, no one will ever see how much it sucks.

I personally don't really get this, though I often have the corollary I don't know if this makes senseism moments. Fortunately, those tend to be brief and can be solved by calling someone else, telling them what you're trying to do and seeing if it makes sense to them. With I suckism the only answer seems to be write it anyway, then find an audience who can read it and talk you down off the ledge.

So, what have I missed?


Eleanor said...

I will report back, as I continue with my class. I think the teacher it pretty good. I assume I am going to learn a lot about resistance.

Anonymous said...

Am hanging onto this, Kelly. Thanks!

Douglas Hulick said...

A friend of mine recommended "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield a while back. I haven't had a chance to crack it open yet, but I know a good portion of it deals with resistance on the part of the artist in one form or another. It may be something to check out.

Kimberly Frost said...


Yeah, from prior posts, I think you and I are alike in that we really enjoy writing. ( I know a lot of people who enjoy having written, but don't like the actual writing process.)

Anyway, because I have so much fun when I'm in the groove, I sometimes get annoyed when the writing process is not as much fun. (ie, when I'm near the end of the book, and plotting comes into play and revisions are right around the corner.) I sometimes decelerate at the end of a book. It's probably my subconscious trying to keep things fun for as long as possible.

Anonymous said...

Perfectionalism self-control and I suckism are closely linked. At least I think the line between the two would be hare to find. Where would that line be, I wonder.

"The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield is an excellent book about artistic resistance.

Kelly McCullough said...

I don't know, Rob, I think there's a big difference between "it has to be perfect and it's not" on the one hand and "it sucks so much the universe gets smaller every time someone reads this on the other." I occasionally get into a perfectionist mood, but I've never really had a case of the I sucks.

Anonymous said...

Put it that way I see the difference more clearly. And I guess I'm not likely to get the "it sucks" although I might get the "I suck." Either one will kick in avoidance behavior.

All of this is good food for thought. I like to be aware of those negative thoughts, behaviors, defense mechanisms that will stop my writing.