If there’s anything a student knows more about than just about anyone else, it’s how to come up with creative reasons not to do what you’re supposed to be doing. We’ll use anything: chores, family, the dog, analyzing the random movements of that fly over there. We’ll even do things we genuinely dislike just to avoid writing that paper or studying for that test. (I once spent an afternoon deep-cleaning our bathrooms instead of finishing a paper.) We now how to avoid.
That inner force almost compelling you to avoid your work is what Steven Pressfield calls “resistance” in his The War of Art. Although he’s talking about the kind of resistance that writers face and why they need to resist that resistance, it works for students too. If you want to succeed in your studies, resistance is something you need to conquer every day.
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.” (The War of Art, preface)
Unfortunately, there are no easy ways to defeat resistance. You can learn lots of tricks or techniques, things that will remind you of the need to resist resistance, little devices for tracking your successes (and failures). And I find many of those quite helpful. In the end, though, it’s all about sitting down and getting to work.
The amateur, underestimating Resistance’s cunning, permits the flu to keep him from his chapters; he believes the serpent’s voice in his head that says mailing off that manuscript is more important than doing the day’s work.
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 War of Art, p. 80)
In the long run, though, resisting resistance pays off. And it’s more than just getting the work done. There’s something about working regularly and that steadily that produces its own kind of momentum.
The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.
Why is this so important?
Because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose.
This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sight down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete. (The War of Art, p. 108)
It’s a little like moving a big rock. The resistance is overwhelming at first, but once you get it going, it’s a whole lot easier to keep going. The momentum builds. Of course, if you decide to stop pushing, even for one morning, it will roll back and crush you.
Are you facing resistance today? Resist back. Sit down and get to work. There’s no other way to succeed as a student.
[This is part of our Back to School: Tips from the Writers Guild series, focusing on things we can learn from professional authors about what it takes to thrive as a student in today’s world.]