I like to read books about writing, probably because so much of my work involves writing in some form or another. And I’ve discovered that the writing life and the academic life have a lot in common.
So I particularly appreciated this description of a writer’s day from Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles (Black Irish Entertainment, 2012). It nicely captures the daily grind of academic research, the importance of getting up every morning and punching the clock even when you don’t feel like it, and that all-important sense of satisfaction that comes at the end of a long and only marginally productive day of hard work.
Whenever you’re working on a writing project of any kind, whether it’s a research paper or a book, come back to this and be reminded that (1) it’s a grind, (2) you’re not alone in the fear and frustration you feel, and (3) get up and till the field anyway, you’ll be glad when the harvest comes in.
I wake up with a gnawing sensation of dissatisfaction. Already I feel fear. Already the loved ones around me are starting to fade. I interact. I’m present. But I’m not.
I’m not thinking about the work. I’ve already consigned that to the Muse. What I am aware of is Resistance. I feel it in my guts. I afford it the utmost respect, because I know it can defeat me on any given day as easily as the need for a drink can overcome an alcoholic.
I go through the chores, the correspondence, the obligations of daily life. Again I’m there but not really. The clock is running in my head; I know I can indulge in daily crap for a little while, but I must cut it off when the bell rings.
I’m keenly aware of the Principle of Priority, which states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first.
What’s important is the work. That’s the game I have to suit up for. That’s the field on which I have to leave everything I’ve got.
Do I really believe that my work is crucial to the planet’s survival? Of course not. But it’s as important to me as catching that mouse is to the hawk circling outside my window. He’s hungry. He needs a kill. So do I.
The sun isn’t up yet; it’s cold; the fields are sopping. Brambles scratch my ankles, branches snap back in my face. The hill is a sonofabitch but what can you do? Set one foot in front of another and keep climbing.
An hour passes. I’m warmer now, the pace has got my blood going. the years have taught me one skill: how to be miserable. I know ho two shut up and keep humping. Thi sis a great asset because it’s human, the proper role for a mortal. It does not offend the gods, but elicits their intercession. My bitching self is receding now. The instincts are taking over. Another hour passes. I turn the cordner of a thicket and there he is: the nice fat hare I knew would show up if I just kept plugging.
Home from the hill, I thank the immortals and offer up their portion of the kill. They brought it to me; they deserve their share. I am grateful.
I joke with my kids beside the fire. They’re happy; the old man has brought home the bacon. The old lady’s happy; she’s cooking it up. I’m happy; I’ve earned my keep on the planet, at least for this day.
Reistance is not a factor now. I don’t think of the ing and I don’t think of the office. The tensions that drains from my neck and back. What I feel and say and do this night will not be coming from any disowned or unresolved part of me, any part corrupted by Resistance.
I go to sleep content, but my final thought is of Resistance. I will wake up with it tomorrow. Already I am steeling myself.
The War of Art, p. 67