The War of Art

There is an acronym which some writers bandy about like badminton birds at a summer picnic: BICHOK (butt in chair, hands on keyboard). The idea is that with enough BICHOK, through good writing days and bad, you will complete any project. I agree, 100%. Yet, my last two months would be better described as HOKNWN: Hands off keyboard, novel, what novel? I could blame my toddlers, but that would be delusional since they are now teens who sleep late and cringe at the suggestion we spend the afternoon playing Catan.

I quite happily procrastinated my way through the summer. Among other things, I adopted a rescue dog, put in a new garden, co-hosted a French-exchange student, drove 3000 miles roundtrip between Denver and Toronto and went on a canoe trip. And when there was absolutely nothing left to do but write, I sat and watched our bees fly in and out of the hive.

Every time I chose something other than writing, I thought it was because the editing, at this stage, feels especially challenging. It’s my fourth draft, give or take and plot hiccups, which I struggled with at each previous pass, wait to be untangled. Secondary characters who seem a bit hazy need to be pinned down or cut loose. Worst of all, the whole thing is too long. It’s time to kill my darlings, as they say.

I was staring at a giant zucchini last week, thinking there might just be enough summer left to get serious about canning, when I remembered The War of Art, a book by Steven Pressfield. He digs into the psychology of creating and as I read, it became clear there was a lot more going on with my psyche than I had acknowledged. Pressfield believes that procrastination or resistance, as he calls it, is most powerful when we are near completing a project that feels important to us. He writes: “The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight. At this point, resistance knows we are about to beat it. It hits the panic button. It marshals one last assault and slams us with everything it’s got.”

Slammed by resistance, check. And this one really struck me: “Resistance is directly proportional to love… If you didn’t love the project that is terrifying you, you wouldn’t feel anything. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference.”

Now I get it. My summer of procrastination is not about the challenging edits and it’s not that I don’t care. It’s that I do. Summer is waning, it’s time to leave bee gazing behind and get “butt in chair and hands on keyboard” and finish this book. Ironically, the longer I work on it, the less it seems to matter how it’s published, whether by me, a university press or one of the big five. What will matter most is IKRTTC (I kicked resistance to the curb).



2 thoughts on “The War of Art”

  1. Susan,
    I am happy to find you. I also write about India in 1900. I will contact you further when I finish your blog and finish reading your website. I have a feeling we will have a lot to talk about.


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