A Practice and Resistance

Why do we have a practice at all?

I have my own reasons, some of which definitely go deep into the airy-fairy, but the most obvious and the most practical is this:

We have a practice in order to confront and overcome Resistance.

A practice by definition defeats Resistance because it produces work every day with total focus and dedication. And a practice is lifelong, so we know we’ll never quit.

Overcoming Resistance is a side-benefit of having a practice.

One could say that a practice is “habit.” But in truth a practice goes way beyond that. A practice enlists habit. It implies habit (if we have a practice, we do it every day, i.e. it can be called a habit) but it is habit only in the sense that giving birth is exercise.

Likewise, if we said the purpose of a practice is to overcome Resistance, we would be vastly understating the depth and effect of having a practice.

Overcoming Resistance is a side-benefit of having a practice. 

For myself, I was years into the act of having a practice before I even thought about its efficacy as a strategy to overcome my own Resistance. Resistance was (and is) a given for me. It wakes up with me. I know I will have to face it every day, and I know it will never diminish or relent or go away.

But I have a practice. That’s all I need to know. I know at a certain time of day I will go into a certain room. I will enter with a very specific mindset, i.e. “Leave your problems (and your ego) outside.” And I will engage in a very specific (though infinitely varied in the moment) enterprise.

I have left Resistance outside as well. It is not allowed into the space where my writing practice takes place.

In an earlier post we cited my friend and mentor Paul Rink’s admonishment to me immediately after I’d finished a manuscript: “Good for you, start the next one today.” What Paul meant, though he didn’t express it in these terms, was:

“You have a practice now, Steve. A practice is engaged in every day. Don’t tell me you’re tired or you want to take a victory lap or you don’t have any idea what your next project will be. None of that matters. You have a practice now. Do it.”

DO THE WORK

Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

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THE AUTHENTIC SWING

A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.

The-Authentic-Swing

NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SH*T

Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.

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TURNING PRO

Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"

Turning-Pro

34 Comments

  1. Janine on February 7, 2024 at 1:43 am

    Fantastic, Steve! You make it clear what we’re about with this writing business. I love the way you say what we intuitively know, but we don’t quite get it until you put it into words.
    Cheers
    Janine

  2. Advoice Inc. on February 7, 2024 at 1:52 am

    “Engrossing read on ‘A Practice and Resistance.’ The article delves into the intricate dance between practice and resistance, offering a thought-provoking exploration of the dynamic interplay. It sheds light on the nuanced ways in which daily practices can serve as a form of resistance or empowerment. A captivating perspective that challenges the conventional notions of routine and rebellion. Kudos to the author for weaving such a compelling narrative! #PracticeAndResistance #ThoughtfulRead”

  3. Julio Baptista Barroco on February 7, 2024 at 1:54 am

    These days I believe we can even say that we don’t overcome Resistance. The practice does it. The ecosystem does it. The Source flowing from those crafty webs of creative commitment does it. We just watch the thing and take our part for it. Or It, like I prefer to consider (and con-sider…). More grateful to Steven’s works than I can tell.

  4. Tolis on February 7, 2024 at 2:41 am

    Thank you so much dear Steve.

    I read your question why do we have a practice at all, and tried to answer it before reading further. I thought:

    1. we have a practice because our bodily juices (hormones) of creation lead us to that
    2. we have a practice because our bodily juices of survival and extensibility force us that way

    Mr. Jim, my old mentor, said: “Set a big/great goal (which, of course, means having a practice to reach it) not for what you’ll achieve -you can actually throw that away after that-, but for what it will make of you to achieve it.” What a great and expanding reason to having a practice.. for what it will force someone to become.

    But to have a practice to overcome Resistance – what a great thing that is! So that we don’t face Resistance face to face, but we actually maneuver so that Resistance can’t even grab us, which in war is often more effective than face to face attacks, if I ain’t wrong. It’s as if we then bring Resistance at our own game, while until then we were at it’s own game.

    When I have a practice I encounter these three Resistances:

    1. Since I’m not an early bird, I don’t force myself to do that, the fear that I won’t make the practice through the whole day. I win that by trying all through the day and finding chunks of time, although I don’t feel heroic in that more moderate state.

    2. The Resistance from the outer world. That is the Master thesis, the German language, the family duties, The Mythologists, the pressure of lack of money etc. I can only work on The creation for about 1.5-2 hours a day this period. These all keep me restricted to a small corner and I try to defend that corner.

    3. A strange Resistance that maybe happens to me partly because I have diabetes, which is that if one day I don’t follow the right steps focused enough (sleep, food, glucose control etc.) then while I’m at the practice, the Sleep may come. Oh and when the Sleep weighs down my eyelids, my counterattack to that while working is like being a mere Trojan soldier trying to face Achille’s jumping attack with the heavy spear. Dead. Period.

    P.s. I want to share the DALL-E that I discovered on that chatgpt technology. It’s enormous and also frightening at the same time. You just describe for it in words what you want, and if your description is accurate enough, it creates completely new images for you that you can use anywhere in a matter of seconds. AI creating art that is so powerful – I can feel the awe and the danger. Where do we stand, we must decide. Here are a couple of images that it created for me in a few seconds with one or two lines of guidance, don’t mind the texts:

    https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=780433210790651&set=a.462183879282254

    https://www.facebook.com/TheMythologists/posts/pfbid0YvCGWgaj9tQGFveLWC2NQASHgZ786q1EEbpaU2B1vmRq8rStA1eA2mgXcen6omHFl

    https://www.facebook.com/TheMythologists/posts/pfbid0eFv29T1a1cfxG4os8fWZSsbnVdH5kFf24Rku5XQL8oKH2MoiUTjkehSeDnUyMvLnl

    Let’s go. Even technology stands at our side, but I can’t tell if it is a friend or a foe.

  5. John on February 7, 2024 at 2:58 am

    These are such great reminders. Years ago you introduced me to the idea of resistance and I recognized it immediately. Yet learning how insidious it can be has been a challenge that is much larger than I imagined. You really do wake up with it. It really does get worse the closer you come closer to success. My wife actually reminded me of it last week. She saw the pattern before I did.

    Thank you for all you do!

  6. Lucy Weir on February 7, 2024 at 3:26 am

    Absolutely bang on, as ever, Steven. Thank you for your inspiration. The Zen attitude that I increasingly adopt, and practice attuning to, is compassionate practice realisation. That means that it actually doesn’t matter if I’m sitting in meditation or brushing my teeth or peeling onions, everything that I do is The Way, if I can allow my attention not to waver, and become distracted by memories, anger, resentment, fear, and dogma. This morning, I’ve been cleaning the flat. Really cleaning it. Instead of seeing this as procrastination, however, I see it as movement, energy, activity (later I will go down to the sea and swim and practice yoga but this cleaning practice is also pretty energetic!). And I have been practicing realisation, in the sense of practicing being aware of the how of doing, rather than the what. This is actually very similar to what Jack Yeats meant, I think, when he said that to be an artist, you need to live as an artist, with every moment an opportunity to practice with grace, and skill, seeing life itself as an art. Now I will write an exhibition application, a short piece about Killing Ants, which is in part why I spent so long cleaning, and a longer period working on my latest book, before turning my attention to the class I need to give this evening, about which I might make some handwritten notes (I love writing in a notebook, so much better than on a computer, right-left brain connection much more evident) in my journal before coming up to cook – with awareness, all, if possible. This is how I live, and I feel its benefits every day, although my focus is on responding to the ecological emergency, so I am all too aware in myself and around me of violence and grief, tragedy and the impact of war. Thanks, Steve, for this timely piece. And peace to you, Sir!

  7. Marvin Ginsberg on February 7, 2024 at 3:32 am

    I have a practice where I write ever day.
    I need to get my writing out and to share it. I need to make a living at it.
    Writing alone does not do the trick.
    It takes me half way there.

  8. Adit on February 7, 2024 at 3:37 am

    “A practice is engaged in everday.” So true. I sometimes feel if the bane of most misery is the weekend culture. Yes, working for yourself and taking breaks are important, but disrupting a routine potentially has a higher impact on the body than repeating something everyday. Would love to know your thoughts.

  9. david Mcgee on February 7, 2024 at 4:17 am

    so sorry to say, that resistance has been winning for a while. I am still working, taking some classes at night and not writing. Starting again seems mush harder than the initial wins of starting a story.

  10. C.M. O'Slatara on February 7, 2024 at 4:27 am

    Your post rings true in many ways and it reminds me of sword study. One of my mentors told me: “Practice does not make perfect– perfect practice makes perfect. You can practice a sword strike a thousand times a day but if you do it wrong, you will learn it wrong.”
    In writing I see this as retreating to my space to write but then checking my email or seeing if someone commented on my post. I am doing the practice wrong. In forming the habit, as you said, of doing it the right way and getting down to business, it will become a practice of mine, a ritual, and I will continue to adhere to the better way. Resistance will lessen. And I can get more done.

    • Jackie on February 7, 2024 at 10:14 am

      Well said, C.M.

  11. Theresa Marthe on February 7, 2024 at 6:04 am

    Yes! Thank you Steven for describing so eloquently the importance of practice. For me airy-fairy equal’s allowing myself to be a vessel for the divine. The writing practice to me is like connecting to the source of all creation and letting the flow go through me and onto the page, a collaborative process. My practice allows me to make that wonderful appointment connecting creativity with my soul to let magic begin. Upon leaving the appointment , after the appropriate amount of time, I feel I am progressing toward a purpose, feeling a little bit more alive ready to face my day now that I’ve done my “real” work.
    Thank you Steven, I needed that little nudge to get back to work!! 👍💖

  12. Peter Brockwell on February 7, 2024 at 6:14 am

    Great post. This recent sequence of posts is really helping. Well, and reading a little of The Daily Pressfield prior to writing. Key for me is the simple action of intentionally noticing (as spelled out by Steve in TDP and numerous posts) that the distractions are Resistance, and remembering that the piece I’m working on is actually calling to me, asking to be brought into being (p8 of TDP).

    I must confess that there’s been so much life crap been cropping up the last few years that has taken me away from even commenting on Steve’s posts, coupled with insufficient sleep and generally low energy and morale. My writing has been more in the way of cataloguing ideas and thoughts rather than prosecuting worthwhile projects. But somehow these last few weeks I’ve managed to reassess my priorities and get my head on straight. The sudden, needless, and to me devastating death of my dear cat on Boxing Day, the recent death from cancer of a close pal in his 40s. Conversations with a composer friend (and ex) about her creative priorities. A shocking lack of productivity in my daytime job. And a few potential new hobbies arising.

    Another factor is that I used to write very early in the morning, on my train to work, and actually completed a book I then self-published. Since then I’ve worked from home for several years, and haven’t been able to create a routine for writing at home. Cafes are good, but I can’t visit a cafe every day.

    All the above coupled with the nagging background awareness of the writing ideas that won’t write themselves, and Steve’s admonitions about Resistance, really brought me to point a few weeks ago to sort my shit out, get better sleep and prioritise writing. I started reading The Daily Pressfield and it was like water to a thirsty. I couldn’t help but ask myself “WTF are you doing? Or not doing!”

    Just wanted to say. I feel like, after an interregnum of several years, I have renewed purpose and energy and, frankly, a reason to get up in the morning. I’ve not missed a daily writing session for nearly a month now.

    For solidarity and inspiration I’d be glad to hear anybody else’s similar stories? (Though I know that Steve would rightly say that inspiration is BS. There is only getting your arse in the seat..).

    Much love and friendship to everyone.
    Peter

    • Sam Luna on February 7, 2024 at 8:29 am

      Thanks for this Peter. I relate to all of it. I typed “The End” on the first draft of my 3rd book in early March 2020 and then we all know what happened next. In the 4 years since it’s been, as you say, one thing after another, including the Hollywood strikes that put me out of work for most of last year, and has fundamentally changed the industry I’ve made a living in for 20 years.

      I too have had friends succumbing to cancer, or getting very difficult diagnoses. A lot of the children in my family and friends families are struggling mightily with their mental health. Sometimes all I can do is get up, get my ass to work (when I have work) in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and be the husband, uncle (Tio) and friend I need to be. And, per my doctor, eat some fiber and try to get some sleep.

      Like you there are bright spots. For the first time in 7 years I wrote a script on spec at the suggestion of a producer friend. “We love it,” said his company. “We read this thing in 20 minutes. It’s so much fun. We’ll never make it.”

      “Thanks for reading,” I said. But it really bolstered me. Writing something good and watching it fall into a black hole is what we do, and I did it, and I need to keep doing it, just like you do.

      • Peter Brockwell on February 7, 2024 at 9:04 am

        Thank you Sam, it’s great to hear of your experience. I’m so pleased for you receiving that validation of your screenplay. The Muse was clearly by your side when you wrote that script. And perhaps you can find another format in which to present it to the world, such as a novel or novella?

        I really like one of Steve’s frequent dictums, which is that understanding Resistance frees us. We need only show up regularly and keep chipping away. As in the Bhagavad Gita, we’re not responsible for the fruits nor are owed any. I like how Theresa puts it in her comment above.

        I’m working daily on a new project – it’s a kind of silly thing really – but I am loving the creative endeavour, which almost feels like a new experience. After many pieces over the years where I just couldn’t see my way to the end, the muse has really been feeding me ideas.

        Also isn’t it absolutely key that we know our own method, which I’m sure as a professional you must have addressed. I really had to recently clarify a great deal to myself mentally. For example, that my hobbies are ‘nice’, but they must NEVER take precedence to getting in a consistent hour or two of ass-in-chair time with my laptop. And that good sleep is key.

        One thing I am struggling with though is not checking the goddamned emails etc! I might even have to unplug my Wifi to overcome this demon.

        Regards
        Peter

    • Jackie on February 7, 2024 at 10:39 am

      Peter, same here. Resistance, the ugly beast keeps trying to get its licks in. In some ways writing and painting were easier with a day job. There was structure to my days. Now when I’ve finally made it through the daily grind, everyone needs me more. My new grandson is pleasant in everyway. Dealing with my parents 60 years of accumulated junk, not so much. And siblings who think the oldest should take care of everything from my parents doctor visits, paperwork, etc. creates resentment issues and bs and guilt to deal with. So the hubby and I joined the gym. Add two more hours and one more thing to my days. Lol. I try to see things in their simplest form. I can either tuck my tail and fold or grab my sword and come back swinging. I’m not going down without a fight. And ya know what? Sometimes you get signs that the muse has your back. A simple short story sells(yeah!) or a screenplay gets read. Sam, (Congratulations on that!) So keep hammering away. Living life is so worth the work. Thanks for keeping us accountable, Steve.

  13. Robert on February 7, 2024 at 6:18 am

    And yet… I write, a lot. It’s my job. (Not in English.) But at times, when I feel passionate about what I am writing, I feel flow, not resistance. And in those moments I produce my best work. When fighting resistance, it’s work, it’s a slow task, it’s crawling through mud. But when I’m in that flow, it’s a joy to write. Then the words come effortlessly. I write 15, 20 good pages a day, whereas when I’m fighting against resistance all that is created is mediocre, obligated, uninspired.

  14. Jan Bowler on February 7, 2024 at 6:48 am

    Surprise, surprise, this message is coming at me from multiple sources at the moment. Think that means something?🤪

  15. Rodney on February 7, 2024 at 7:40 am

    “Don’t rest on your laurels.” The powerful words of my high school coach back in the 60s. I thought he was just talking about athletic achievements. Little did I know the totality of that statement. “When I was a child, I thought as a child.” Now, I have “eyes to see.”

    Thank you for this powerful post!

  16. Maureen Anderson on February 7, 2024 at 10:40 am

    I’m with Peter. This series of posts is illuminating.

    As they all are, by the way. Only recently I thought of how futile everything seemed, before invoking Stevespeak: “Maybe I’m in the wilderness. There’s something important happening; I just don’t know what it is.” All better!

    As for practice, I practice being the person I want to be. Doing housework to clear my head (versus railing against the boring slog of it). Going at workouts just a little harder every time (which relaxes my brain enough to wander and play). And lately, not worrying about whether I’m getting anywhere with the radio show (and realizing, after still another Katie-inspired epiphany, those epiphanies are enough for now and maybe forever).

    Everything’s a writing prompt and that’s what I love most, the fun of writing a story that will hold my own interest someday.

  17. Steve Brown on February 7, 2024 at 2:25 pm

    Thank you for your words Steven.

    Only today I experienced both the fullest immersion in practice this year, followed soon after by direct assault from resistance.

    My practice routine has taken a hit lately following a house move in early January. It’s been tough to figure new ways to approach staying creative without a dedicated studio space (I play drums).

    This morning I ventured out to a local rehearsal space and duly produced two of the best hours of focussed practice in what felt like an age. It was fun, and brought back a sense of assuredness that I still possess a knack for the thing I love to do. During the drive back my mood shifted away from this elevated state, as I confronted thoughts insistent on bringing home how much harder it now is to carve out quality time on the drums. It felt very much like the outsized gains I experienced in my isolated practice session was being matched by outsized doubts regarding my future.

    Thanks then for the timely reminder of the inevitability of resistance, and the guises it uses to leverage any chinks in the internal armour – in my case unresolved concerns regarding my present living situation (Oddly I do feel that one trait of resistance is to reveal the unadorned truth of a situation?). I’ll take it as a kick to reinstate a daily practice routine, however that looks in the short term. Ultimately, a proper practice space feels like an absolute necessity. I rent in the city and have gotten used to ‘moving on’ from properties as part of urban living. I lucked out in the last place with ample space for living and drums. Now I face a new set of creative challenges to grow beyond – but sense that the best answer to resistance lies in the act of practice itself.

  18. Renita C Wellman on February 7, 2024 at 3:58 pm

    Your Wednesday practice is also powerful. It draws us.

  19. Anntonina Fujitsubo on February 7, 2024 at 6:23 pm

    It’s determination and commitment to walk the path that I chose what I was youth no matter what. Regardless todays’ condition —mind/body/environment. And I choose to do so every single day. In the end, it’s win or lose over weakness, cowardice, negativity, thousands excuses of lesser self. Keep winning is victory, and if I fall, pick self up immediately. Moving forward no matter what, even a tiniest step. That’s the way I live. Having encouraging community and a mentor is therefore very vital to succeed to stay in the path.

  20. Bob on February 7, 2024 at 8:30 pm

    Another way to frame our practice is as a labor of love. Both laborious and glorious, with glorious the top rung on the ladder.

  21. Chuck DeBettignies on February 8, 2024 at 6:18 am

    I’m just finishing my first book, and have been thinking about what Paul Rink told Steve. It’s great to have Steve clarify what Paul meant. His explanation has so many more dimensions than I had picked up on.
    This concept of the practice is so powerful and essential to all of us “getting on with” the work we need to do, both for ourselves, and doing our part in the bigger picture of things.
    I get so much from Steve’s weekly posts and everyone’s comments. I’m just grateful that he takes the time to do this!

  22. Chris on February 8, 2024 at 9:56 am

    I wonder how you deal with different phases of your work as it relates to a daily practice? In other words, when you main work is writing, there comes a time when you need to edit and review your drafts, rather than write new things. I record and shoot things. I have found that it’s strange having to go from one phase to the next because my raison d’être may be phase one but I find myself having to spend extensive time in editing and other things so can finish what I started. As a result, there may be months at a time, where I don’t do the thing I want, but spend time finishing/editing. Does that shift from one stage to the next disturb your practice or do you always write and the editing is on top of that, done at a different time?

  23. rohan SAGAR on February 9, 2024 at 5:03 am

    One could say that a practice is “habit.” But in truth a practice goes way beyond that. A practice enlists habit. It implies habit (if we have a practice, we do it every day, i.e. it can be called a habit) but it is habit only in the sense that giving birth is exercise.

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  27. Adam Schwartz on February 20, 2024 at 6:48 pm

    One of my practices is singing in public once a week at karaoke. Tonight I started singing “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” wildly off-pitch. I sounded like a parody of a bad karaoke singer. I wanted to stop.

    But halfway through the sang, I found the melody. And I sounded good to the end.

    What caused the change midway? I must have relaxed.

    The only weapon that works against Resistance is persistence. When we keep buggering on, refusing to give up, Resistance gets the message that we mean business.

    Next week I’ll sing again, and the fear will come up again. But I’ll persist anyway. Gradually, over time, I’m finding my voice.

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