On Beginning

Yvonne McArthur typing at her keyboard

The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.

Steven Pressfield

There’s something about beginnings that freak me out. I stare at the blank page for a while, then I decide to go make some tea. I come back with my tea and decide I need a snack to get me going. So I go eat a small handful of raisins and come back again. I change the music I’m listening to. I put my fingers on the keyboard. I fiddle but don’t press any keys. This is after having already decided to write.

The days I do best are when I resist my sudden urge to try making homemade sauerkraut, leave all the dirty dishes in the sink, let the broom sit unmolested amongst floor crumbs, and come straight to my computer. On those days I immediately launch my Self Control web-blocking app rather than searching for flights to Indonesia, browsing photos of cockapoos, or falling into the vortex of social media.

Maybe you have no such qualms about leaving the kitchen in disarray. Maybe you have no troubles coming to your computer and attacking that white space like a racehorse springing out of the gate. Maybe you have no difficulty making the words march and sing from the moment you put your fingers to the keys. Or maybe you’re like me. Maybe the start requires a mental wrestling match from which you often emerge mud-splattered and pudgy from overconsumption of raisins.

But don’t despair, there’s hope for us expert commence-o-phobes. I’m here after all. I’m writing. And today wasn’t one of those best-scenario days. I lost several hours kneading cabbage to make sauerkraut, washing dishes, chewing on raisins, making tea, and looking at pictures of cockapoos. (Although if you’re going to waste time, I recommend researching okapis instead.)

If you’ve made writing a priority in your life, you’ve already encountered these sticking points. If you’re just starting your writing journey you might not know if what you’re attempting is possible, much less how to begin. But whether you’re new to the fight or a veteran, you must continually harden your resolve and choose over and over to give your time, energy, and creativity to writing. So how do you do that?

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is an excellent resource. It’s all about how to apply the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair (figuratively speaking in my case). That sitting down part, that’s the hardest thing about achieving a creative goal. It’s what separates the wannabes from the real writers. And there’s so much that can keep us from sitting down: procrastination, food, sex, TV, gossip, chocolate, social media, and on and on. Pressfield calls these obstacles “Resistance”. Resistance has produced lots of writers who don’t write, painters who don’t paint, fitness-flake-outs, and dieters who’ve fallen off the bandwagon. Pressfield says “Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet…To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be.” Why? Because every one of us has a dream, we have something we want to be, to make, to write, to give to the world, something that calls to us and fills us with yearning.

No matter how hard the beginning is. No matter how tough it is to overcome Resistance, we must overcome it. When I don’t write, I feel lousy, unhappy, purposeless, unmotivated, and pointless. When I write, even when it’s the most melodramatic crap on the planet, I feel good. I feel like I’m winning. I am winning. I want you to win too.

As Pressfield puts it: “Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance.”

Stop reading this. Go write. Let nothing deter you. Hit it with all you’ve got. Begin.

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