Each of has a voice waiting to be discovered if we can overcome the nefarious behaviors of Resistance.
9 minute read
Published: January 15, 2023
I can list a thousand-and-one reasons not to do something. But a thousand aren’t necessary. Not even a hundred. A handful will suffice. And, when I have enough, I no longer see a need to get started, and the whole venture dies with the least of effort.
Other times – despite a preponderance of excuses – I convince myself to start. Then, as the project naturally transforms in surprising and unexpected fashion, the horizon obscured by the fog of uncertainty, I lose sight of the final version. It’s too much to bear. So, I abandon the venture.
As someone who must create things for a paycheck, the battle begins when I receive an assignment, and it rages on throughought until the work is done.
When reflecting at the end of the year, I’m astounded by the amount of projects I finished despite the derision I receive from my inner critic, who critiques not just the work, but my very humanity.
According to the inner critic: I’m not good enough as a person; therefore, I’m not good enough to make this thing.
So, why bother?
While I can push on through because my paycheck depends on delivering something, many times – especially in my side hustles and hobbies – I give up.
In his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield defines this stultifying force as Resistance. Pressfield outlines the many forms of Resistance, but the most nefarious by far is that Resistance that prevents us from answering the call to creative work.
It’s easy to fail in the face of Resistance. After all, creative work is hard and the outcomes are not guaranteed. But never starting, that’s the greatest failure.
To be fair, there are a lot of obstacles, from my inner struggle to the mixed messages of a society that simultaneously reveres the objects of the creative process – we’ve built halls of art, bookstores, libraries, playhouses, and movie palaces – and brands you a fool if you throw your life into a creative profession.
Anxiety, the fear of an unknown future, is a force multiplier for Resistance. Some anxiety is natural as you take on a new project. But when you experience a disproportionate amount of anxiety, Resistance seizes this from every angle. Imagining what it’ll be like to face off with your critics can make it easy to walk away.
There is the imaginary criticism I conjure in my imagination, and there is real criticism, some of which is helpful. Workshops are a way to learn how to handle critcism, but it’s not easy learning.
I trained as a writer in college, attending hundreds of hours of creative writing workshops where my manuscripts were slashed with red, green, and blue pen and pencils by my peers and instructors. This was daunting at first, but with practice I became inured to the workshop approach, and I began to see the value when the feedback was productive. Workshopping, when approached with the right degree of seriousness and humor is a valuable tool for the writer. It’s the original form of gathering user feedback. Still, when it came to others reading my work, I had a lot of trepidation that compounded into fear and, ultimately, stasis.
Once I got to know people in the workshop environment, they became familiar, so I knew what to expect. But an audience of folks I don’t know or can’t see, that plays into the hands of Resistance.
It’s one thing to have an audience of well-meaning peers who all want to get better, but you never know how the unknown audience will react. And there will always be naysayers who don’t appreciate the effort or direction.
Even today, in the corporate world, I sometimes hate to see my work on display. I know it’s important to have it out there, which drives me to do what I do, but I worry how the audience will react. These feelings I’ve found arise not from a perceived lack of quality, but from my own insecurities.
I didn’t believe that my experience as a human being had merit or deserved words. As someone three-degrees from the trailer; as someone who wrestles anxiety on a daily basis; as someone who has battled depression at different times in my life; as someone who was the first in his family to work outside of the public service sector, the first to have a bachelors degree; as a person who believes in the possibility of imagination; and on and on – that it all adds up to nothing.
Everything that made me unique was not unique at all, I convinced myself.
None of these experiences were good enough, especially in comparison to published writers. The writers I studied at the top of their professions were confident, fully-formed human beings. That’s what I thought.
Sure, they had demons and diverse experiences, but their experiences were somehow better for their writing than mine. And the more twisted those experiences, the better for their art. There was no way for someone like me to compete with the pain that they poured into their art.
So, why bother?
Facing Fears and Finding My Voice
My lack of self-belief led me to take roles that required me to speak for others. Instead of trusting my own experience and my own voice, I took on the voices of others. A job in communications was an easy way to do this.
A corporate communications person is a lot like a ventriloquist – you create for many different people with different voices.
I found myself writing the voices of CEOs and VPs and subject matter experts who struggled to command the English language to inspire and lead. They had mastered much of their domains, but they failed to convince others that their ideas were meaningful.
With my love language and the nuanced relationship we share, I was the perfect person for the job. I could spot syntactic patterns and idiosyncratic word choices and usage and parrot those features to great effect, creating works that sounded like the subjects themselves had crafted them. Letters, emails, PowerPoint decks would return with minimal edits save the faults someone in power must find in a subordinate’s work.
While I was mimicking the voices of others, I didn’t spend much time listening to my voice, discovering it, cultivating it, playing. Initially, anyway.
As I tired of crafting words for others, I began to see that the techniques I used to dissect and learn other voices could be used on my voice. What’s more, I could play with my voice, take chances, do things that I wouldn’t dare do on behalf of a CEO or Vice President. People don’t like to take chances with their words. They especially don’t appreciate it when it’s the writer who takes the chances on their behalf.
I started to use the same techniques on myself, asking key questions: What did I say? How did I say it? What was the syntax? What patterns did I rely on? Were they useful? What do I like about it? What are my idiosyncratic patterns, even if they’re not necessarily accepted as correct?
I listened to my voice and caught the lilts and tilts, the mix of the profane and the sophisticated and trundled along a path of self-discovery. It was my voice – imperfect – but distinctly mine.
Antidotes for Resistance
Time to time I’m asked how to gain a better sense of self and find your voice. Voice, your distinct approach to the work and what identifies it as yours,is crucial for creative work, whether you’re writing, designing, making music, or painting, but it can often feel a bit elusive to capture.
What follows is an incomplete list of high-value activities that have helped me and others do some of the inner work required to discover your voice. There are others, of course, but these have proved themselves worthy of your earliest attempts. As with all bits of advice, take what works, discard the rest, and make it your own.
Keep a journal. This has been enlightening for me. I write in my journal every day, almost a full year of consecutive entries at this writing. It is the purest form of expression I have. At times vulgar, tender, enlightenting, and just plain non-sensical, my journal is my playground full of ideas, observations, lists, and sketches without self-correction. Everything I make starts in my journal in some form or fashion.
Read your journal. You wrote it, but it’s meaningless without an audience and reflection. Read what you wrote and find patterns. Reviewing past entries helps me identify growth areas and spot the subjects that interest me. I can see patterns and make real change. Reading my journal is more important than keeping it.
Do other types of creative work. While writing is my first love and mainstay, I also dabble in design and draw, engaging all parts of my brain. Fighting through to express an idea, a feeling, or an experience in a way that’s less familiar to me forces me to focus on the ideas. It’s another form of play. I look for new ways to visualize what’s on my mind or make squishy ideas concrete.
Identify the Resistance. This is a technique that therapists use with patients who have a lot of anxiety. There’s something transformative about giving your anxiety an identity. Naming things can be so cathartic. Drawing them, too. Name it. Sketch it. Then you know exactly who you’re dealing with when the inner critic runs its mouth.
Have a conversation with your anxiety. When Resistance rises to obstruct your path, be cool. Have a chat with it to understand why it’s standing in your way. Anxiety is a natural human reaction. It was helpful (and still is, at the right times and the right proportions) when our ancestors inhabited caves and one misstep could place you in the maw of some flesh-loving carnivore. But when it comes to doing creative work, anxiety often overstates the potential outcomes. Your computer likely won’t eat you, though Resistance will say it so.
Asking your anxiety why it’s present and understanding what it’s trying to tell you and looking at evidence for and evidence against what you’re feeling is a good initial step toward a deep understanding of the unconscious forces that drive you.
If you have a passion to write, to make things, to do creative work, there is doubtless a unique voice ready to be freed from obscurity. The world needs to hear it, whatever form it takes.
Meeting Resistance and getting acquainted does not guarantee success, but it’s an invitation to try, to be not afraid, to speak up, to share, and to be heard. Your voice, your unique experiences, the lens through which you see the world – these have value and color your voice.
Finding your voice, though, that is a process of self-discovery fraught with walls that you either need to climb or go through.
Jump! Duck! Parry! Thrust! Kick! Break on through to the other side.