Meet Elaine Stritch. She’s the voice in my head, telling me I’m a bad writer. And when this woman talks, I listen. She’s not only a Tony nominee, she knows how to throw back a shot and smoke like a champion. She’s the one who makes me frozen, paralyzed, and refuses to let my optimistic self get a word in edgewise.
Even when I’ve gotten positive feedback on my writing from people who say, “Keep going, this is great!” I can’t. Because Elaine tells me to stop, that my friends are just being nice, that the pages suck.
Here’s the thing. I’m happy as a clam pounding out early drafts of things. “Hey, this is crap” I say cheerfully to myself. Of course it is. It’s supposed to be crap. Anne Lamott, Ernest Hemingway and a bunch of other heavy hitters who know what they’re talking about say so.
It’s when I get to the later stages of rewriting, that Elaine comes slithering in wearing her mink, carrying a highball, and sits down and snickers. She peruses a couple of pages and says, “It’ still crap, honey. Even though you’ve been working on it for a year.” She takes a long drag off her cigarette, reads another page and cackles.
Stephen Pressfield, in his book The War of Art, defines resistance as “an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.”
In order to beat resistance, we have to understand it. So here are the Three P’s of Resistance (as voiced by Elaine.)
It’s PERSONAL. She says, “You’re terrible.” “You suck.” “You’re a loser.”
It’s PERMANENT. She says, “You’ll always suck and will never improve.” “Everyone else, including Ed Wood, is a better writer than you.“
It’s PERVASIVE. “You know, come to think about it, you suck at a lot of things that you do. Why don’t you make more money? Why is your couch so ugly? Why haven’t you read Infinite Jest, like all your friends?”
The three P’s of resistance offer me no way out. I am personally bad, I will always be that way, in EVERYTHING I do.
Holy crap. No wonder I can’t write.
None of what Elaine (voicing my fears) says is factually true. But when I allow her voice in my head, these words take on the aura of truth. And because I believe them to be true, I start ACTING like they are true. And I stop writing.
See how tricky resistance is?
So let’s take action. What if I tell Elaine to go away and I choose a different voice to listen to? What if this person sounds like Glinda the Good Witch, and she speaks in actual facts?
Here are the 3 P’s, as voiced by Glinda…
It’s PERSONAL. “Every story you tell is somehow about you and you were put on this magical planet to tell it in a way that no one else can. You are a snowflake. You are wonderful!”
It’s PERMANENT. “Yes, you are a storyteller. You always have been, and always will be. This is your purpose.”
It’s PERVASIVE. “Your writing touches every part of your life. It allows you to connect with people, to make them laugh, to teach them things about the world they may not know. It’s the way you reveal your humanity.”
If given a choice between these two voices, Elaine or Glinda, who would you want in your ear? Because it is a choice. Barring diagnosis of a mental illness, we get to select the people who live in our head.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Elaine. In every good story there’s a bad guy. But they don’t usually win. We recognize them, we struggle against them, and ultimately, they are vanquished.
Glinda can kick Elaine’s ass. Every time.
You just have to turn up her volume. She tends to whisper.
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