What you need to know about fear.
Once, I had the privilege of working with six accomplished writers and a herd of horses for three days. It was incredible. The horses have a way of mirroring your resistance to you, without fail.
You might have a very compelling story about why you won't/can't write your book. Try explaining that to a horse!
What does your story about your resistance look like to a horse? Lack of trust.
To a horse, that feels like fear.
I witnessed some awesome cracking of egos on thtat retreat. Resistance was revealed as stories and choices. Whoa.
Then I got to see light come in through those cracks.
The light coming through = trust.
Just before I left for the farm, I hosted a call with our entire Story Intensive class, to talk through issues and questions that were coming up for them in their semester. It was a powerful evening: another whoa.
It's impossible for me to witness this kind of bravery and honesty without being affected by it. Every time I see someone make a courageous move to prioritize creative work, especially when it feels controversial or impossible to do so, I hear thunder cracking. I can't shrug it off — it feels too important.
Resistance is fear. And when you witness someone face her own fears, it helps you face your own.
Here are some stories of resistance that you might not recognize as fear:
• It's not like I'm Margaret Atwood or anything. I'm not writing novels.
• I'm the breadwinner of my family, so I can't realistically take time to write a book.
• My stories aren't that interesting - nobody wants to read about my experience.
• I tried to get into an MFA program, but I was rejected multiple times, so I just have to make peace with the fact that I'm not supposed to write.
• I can't decide if I should write fiction or memoir.
• I don't know how to market my work. Should I get a website up first, build a platform?
• Should I use a pen name or my real name?
• I get paid to produce a TV show/clean people's teeth/teach third grade/balance company books - I'm not a real writer.
• Nobody wants to read the weird/sad/soft stuff I write about.
• Just because I used to like writing when I was young doesn't mean it's my calling.
• I don't have resistance! I just have a lack of focus, and/or I don't like doing what other people expect of me.
Even our most multi-layered, complicated resistance stories are all about one thing: fear. And at the core, that always feels the same, no matter the details.
"Your fear is the most boring thing about you," Elizabeth Gilbert says. "Your fear is just as boring as mine is… everybody's got the same one. It is not precious, it is not special, it is not singular to you. It's just the one we all got wired with when we came in."
Our individual stories about why we aren't writing can be different. They are uniquely crafted for our ego and personality. That's why we treat them as precious stories. They're specialized and detailed on the surface, but they actually all feel the same.
And resistance itself is obstinate, shifty. You have to be vigilant, and use the wisdom you've gained from past experience. It helps to pay attention to the story you're telling yourself, so you can see that it's just a story, and not the truth. You can choose to face your fear, not feed it.
Your writing is actually so accessible to you. It's right there, behind the story that you're telling yourself.
This is why we've added pre-writing somatic practices to the Story Course before each lesson: to help your nervous system relax before you face resistance.
This is dedicated to anyone facing the fear that comes before you write something you care about.
To the students in The Story Intensive — thank you for your fortitude and commitment! You are facing resistance every day, every week. You made it past Lesson 3, arguably the toughest one to write through. Bravo! Now, on to Lesson 4, where things get really interesting.
To the six writers who worked with me and the horses — thank you for your courage and honesty! Each one of you looked resistance in the eye, stood your ground, and chose to write anyway. I'm still learning from you.
For everyone in the Story Course — thank you for taking the brave leap! You're on a solo journey with a backpack and a compass. Your resilience and determination help the rest of us find our own resolve when we sit alone at our writing desk.
Every day I need to remind myself about this stuff.
My complicated story is about needing to be online every day, because I'm running a writing school, and it's my livelihood, and it needs daily attention, etc. I'm always scared to take time off. (Liz, you're so right: my fear is the most boring part about me.)
But I have chosen to write anyway. For me, writing a book means being offline sometimes. I went offline around this time before, and nothing broke or fell apart as a result.
In fact, life got better.
So I'm going to use the wisdom I gained from that experiment and do it again. I've committed to some non-negotiable writing time for my novel, and given myself a date to finish this draft.
What about you? What is your story about why you aren't writing?
How will you commit to your writing anyway?
Photo (top): Sarah Olive on Unsplash.