Tag Archives: Steven Pressfield

Back in the Writer’s Seat

After a nearly 9-month hiatus from publishing anything on this platform, I’m returning with renewed dedication. I’d like to pretend I was on a Ulysses-like sabbatical, collecting fodder and adventures to share with a patient and attentive audience when I returned to my home…office.

In reality, I have a gestation period of excuses.

Some of them are legitimate. Some are a stretch. All of them have something in common: RESISTANCE. Steven Pressfield is right–that shit will stop at nothing less than total annihilation. Fighting resistance is a daily battle, whether we recognize it or not.

Here is an abbreviated list of my most recent excuses. See if you can relate to any. Some are sneaky AF and are often resistance masquerading as reasons to not do the work (in my case, write).

  • New job
  • New cat
  • Sleep
  • Covid
  • Travel
  • Ted Lasso
  • Depression
  • Home organizing
  • Family obligations

It started with a new job I took last spring. What I thought would be a fun, part-time side gig turned out to be an all-encompassing demand that encroached on every other facet of my life. My daily writing time was supplanted with early morning dramas (beyond my pay scale), late night texts (this could have been an email!), and frequent troubleshooting calls to customer service.

Even my dinners and weekend getaways were sabotaged by unscheduled work-related calls and crises beyond the purview of my job description. So, writing slipped to the bottom of the to-do list each day, often for different reasons.

That part-time, life-consuming side hustle swallowed up six months of my year before I pulled the ripcord, looked for work with a more predictable schedule, and threatened to reclaim a daily writing routine.

And I did…sort of.

During the month of November I attempted an experiment in the vein of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The goal is to write a 50-thousand-word manuscript in 30 days. I have attempted this several times, only reaching the word count goal once. I don’t think I actually want to write a novel. But I do want to write.

I made a pact with my inner scribe to write one blog post draft per day during the month of November. I promised myself I would go back and edit them all as necessary and publish them when they were each good and ready.

By November 30, I did compose a dozen drafts, all of which have yet to undergo an editing process and join its published brethren. By now the freshness and essence of immediacy have faded. The nature of conversational blogging differs from long-form novel writing in more ways than I suspected.

Time is of the essence with regular posts or daily news, which leaves little room for perfectionism. One reason I’m drawn to this medium is that it challenges my meddling analysis paralysis and encourages the adage “done is better than perfect.”

(That quote is attributed to Sheryl Sandberg, but I can’t believe she was the first ever to have uttered it.)

At some point you may see those months-old drafts polished up and making their debut, but for now I’m sticking with real time and following the advice of many artists and writers far wiser and more successful than I.

Elizabeth Gilbert covers this topic extensively in her TED talk and nonfiction book Big Magic, sharing stories about creative inspiration–from poet Ruth Stone to singer/songwriter Tom Waits to Gilbert’s own experience with fellow writer Ann Patchett.

If dreams deferred dry up, neglected muses can wander off and seek companions elsewhere.

My formerly fresh list of topics and unexplored ideas now look wilted, three months later. I failed to feed, water, and nurture them when they needed, rather than when I felt ready. And I may never feel ready. As a result, several have withered on the blogging vine. Someone else may have caught hold of them and will do the topics greater justice than I ever could, or at least did in recent months.

So, here we are. Again. Another day, another attempt, another topic, another post.

In the midst of work and writing transitions and false starts, I adopted a new cat. My husband (and our friends and neighbors) and I have bid Coco adieu and welcomed Pele into our home. You’ll see updates on her soon.

Oh yah, and I got Covid for Christmas and spent the last week of 2021 quarantining and sleeping like a champ.

The last nine months have been a wild ride! I look forward to sharing more of it with you. Instead of resistance pretending to be life keeping me from writing, I plan to use that raw material for inspiration and keep my arse in the writer’s seat.

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Kill Your Darlings

Since my last post (11 days ago?), I have composed another lengthy piece about my favorite recent distraction.

(As an aside, it’s a game called Two Dots, which I downloaded onto my smartphone. Although if my phone were really smart, it would have told me not to add another form of procrastination to my growing list.)

I have also let the post sit for about nine days in an open window on my laptop, saved but not published. I have stressed about its quality, lack of completion, relevance, reception, and the number of Photobucket images I commandeered to accompany the text.

Like far more writing pieces than I feel comfortable admitting, this one sat, neglected and unfinished, and virtually rot like the bag of peaches left on my kitchen shelf awaiting a bite. Except those peaches have literally begun to rot, emanate a sweet and pungent scent to remind me of their existence, and will soon end up in the compost or a batch of cobbler.

The Two Dots piece faced a similar fate––not cobbler, but a transformation into something different, more palatable––namely, this post about killing your darlings.

That term “kill your darlings” emerged in many a journalism class during my academic career, and for good reason. It is essential. And it proffers Zen-like wisdom about ego and attachment. Yet I still grapple with that one. I also carry around a 34-year-old security blanket, which I use as a sleep aid. Obviously I struggle with some form of attachment disorder. Go figure.

As serendipity would have it, I read the very chapter in Steven Pressfield’s Turning Pro (my new favorite book, writing guide, life lessons, new-age bible) about that topic over the weekend.

Pressfield writes a vignette about Pablo Picasso entitled “The Professional is Ruthless With Himself.” He describes the interaction between the artist and a gallery owner:

“Suddenly Picasso seized a palette knife and strode to the first painting. To the gallery owner’s horror, Picasso slashed the painting from end to end.

‘Pablo! Arret, Pablito!’

But Picasso didn’t stop. Blade in hand, he marched down the line of paintings, reducing each one to ribbons.

The professional knows when he has fallen short of his own standards. He will murder his darlings without hesitation, if that’s what it takes to stay true to the goddess and to his own expectations of excellence.”

There have many casualties in my writing process. The Two Dots post added to the body count, and many more will follow. If even one reader can relate to this process, though, the death has not been in vain.

Next week, perhaps Two Dots will enjoy a resurrection. In the meantime, it will remain merely a favorite distraction from writing.

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The 3 Rs

I love that informative and catchy jingle, perfected by Jack Johnson, but I’m not referring to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (and does that apostrophe make the statement look grammatically incorrect?).

And forget anything that involves aRithmetic––this wRRRiter has two English degrees. Yet I can rarely sit down and eke out a coherent sentence without falling prey to myriad temptations.

My favorites include:

  • The latest Instagram shot of my cousin’s zucchini harvest
  • The first season of The Blacklist now streaming on Netflix (in which my longtime celebrity crush James Spader bears a striking resemblance to my Gonzo journalism crush Hunter S. Thompson)
  • Sudden urges to organize my sock drawer or scrub the bathroom toilet

ANYTHING to avoid that still, quiet voice, whispering, “Sit your arse down and WRITE, goddammit!”

Mere distractions, but mighty powerful ones, they be.

Indeed, the three Rs in my life these days include Reading, wRiting, and Resistance.

3Rs_logo

That last one has enveloped the first two of late. So many books discuss this phenomenon and occasional curse. Ironically, some of it is the best writing I’ve encountered in years. Even my own work, or lack thereof, is infused with it.

The difference is that resistance fuels theirs while it debilitates mine.

Steven Pressfield dedicates at least two entire books to the topic: The War of Art and Turning Pro. I read both over the summer, while procrastinating (read: resisting) and delaying to return to writing on a regular basis.

This process prompted a rare chain of events. The procrastination actually inspired me to stop doing what I was doing while reading the books, and instead break through the resistance, and start writing!

Rule #1: Writers write, they don’t talk about writing. Duh.

It is kind of like when my mother buys books about clutter to help her clean up the clutter, but then uses them to add to the existing pile of clutter…

(Funny that about 20 minutes after I wrote that last sentence, during yet another bout of unwarranted Resistance, I stumbled upon a YouTube video of Joe Rogan interviewing Steven Pressfield discussing this very topic. It looks like Resistance can also double as serendipity.)

Both processes can devolve into vicious cycles.

But when the pupil is ready, gurus appear. They can manifest in various forms:

  • Dreams (or nightmares, when your subconscious is particularly desperate)
  • Muses, appearing as an idea, a mentor, inspiration, clarity. Call it what you will.
  • Steven Pressfield and other inspiring artists (some of the most notable ones in my life include Tom Robbins, Anne Lamott, David Sedaris, Elizabeth Gilbert, Stephen King, and Ruth Reichl, to name a few)

The number of ways Resistance––this adversary deserves a capital ‘R’––tried to foil my plans to write even this brief piece on the very topic is at once devastating, pathetic, and all too familiar.

It is also hilarious because I, Astrid the Dragon Slayer, can recognize its trickery just a wee bit faster now.

This call to action––to write––must be pretty fucking important. I had to slay some seriously persistent dragons this week:

  • Disable Words With Friends
  • Bury my phone
  • Mute James Spader
  • Cork an open bottle of Malbec (which had a screw cap)
  • Enforce Draconian Facebook parameters on myself: 20 minutes and three comments max.
  • Get out of bed
  • Put the pint of Half Baked froyo back in the freezer…with at least two servings left

But here I am, still alive, slightly less restless, slightly less likely to gauge out my eye with an icepick to rival the pain of not writing.

And ready to face more dragons and Resistance’s henchmen tomorrow.

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