The Rape of the Muse

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Photo credit: Susannah Conway (susannahconway.com)

“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”
― W. Somerset Maugham

Creative projects live and die by what you do when you don’t feel creative.

Maybe you want to write a symphony. I don’t know. Let’s say you do. Let’s say you take in the music and get halfway decent at composing and now you’re ready to make your big statement with an orchestra. Symphony in F. Or C. Or G minor– that’s a good one too.

Writing that symphony, it will go like this: first, it will be heaven. You will want nothing more in the world than to sit down and scribble out the harmonies of life, love, and loss as you know them. Things will come easily and you will be full of excitement. You will drink from a firehose of inspiration and spew out melody after beautiful melody.

Then, a ways in, that excitement will wane. The music in your head will start to cycle in and out. The inspiration will come to a drip. Writing the symphony is still kind of fun, but maybe you will take some time to write that folk song or a string quartet or some other little project. Something newer and fresher– because the big one just keeps dragging on.

This continues. It gets worse, really. It becomes hell– the point where you’d rather do anything else than the one reason you’re here. You’d sooner fold socks and vaccuum under your bed than write more song. And that’s exactly what you will do.

When it comes to that, you’re at the decision point. Somewhere between dusting the top of your fridge and organizing your bookshelves according to the Dewey decimal system, you will have a realization: Read More

The Enemy

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The writer Steven Pressfield in his books The War of Art and Do the Work talks about a concept he calls Resistance. Resistance is a cold, impersonal force that acts against every creative endeavor you feel passionate about. He writes about it mostly in the context of art– Resistance is the nagging voice inside of you telling you that you can never be a real writer, that you’ll never finish your symphony, and that your paintings suck. It’s all the distractions to keep you from ever sitting down at your typewriter. Resistance can even take the form of all the legitimate reasons not to pick up your violin today– you do need to pick up the kids from school, and someone has to take out the trash.

Resistance is opposed to any endeavor we take that makes us a better person or the world a better place or brings us closer to our calling. Opening a restaurant? Starting a family? Voting your (unpopular) conscience? The universe is not apathetic to these actions; it is actively hostile. Resistance is that hostility.

Resistance knows you’d grow by doing these things, and it’s there to keep you from growing. If you give into it, you will die regretful and wondering. Resistance wants you to die like that. It hates you.

Here’s the good news though: Resistance means you’re doing something right. It will come knocking down your door with distractions, excuses, and self-doubt literally 100% of the time you’re moving towards what Pressfield calls a “higher spiritual plane”. On the other hand, if you are a giving up your life as a volunteer with Calcutta orphans to go work at Goldman Sachs, Read More