Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

When Resistance Pays You a Compliment

By Steven Pressfield | Published: June 24, 2015

My friend Roda is on the cusp of finishing her second novel. We were having breakfast the other day and she was telling me she was absolutely overwhelmed by Resistance. “I know the dragon gets stronger the closer you are to the finish line … but wow, this is really more than I can handle. I’m stuck. The dark side is winning.”

Alfred Molina as "Doc Ock." The bigger the dream, the bigger the Resistance.

Here’s what I told Roda:

“If you’re feeling that much Resistance, think of it as a compliment. Resistance is paying you a compliment.”

Remember: the level of Resistance we feel at any point is directly related to the power of our vision and to how important our project is to the evolution of our soul.

In other words, Resistance is telling Roda she is onto something big.

Resistance is terrified that Roda will actually push through and complete her book. It’s terrified because it knows that if Roda does, she will have become a different person, a stronger person, an artist and a professional who is not only really doing her work but who is armed, now, with a vastly increased self-confidence that she can handle anything Resistance throws at her in the future. Resistance senses that it’s at the point of losing. That’s why it’s pulling out all the stops.

I haven’t read Roda’s book. I have no idea what it’s about. But if Resistance is hammering her this hard, particularly at the finish, it’s an infallible sign that Roda is poised on the threshold of something significant—artistically, personally, and professionally.

Three laws are at work here.

1. Resistance always comes second.

What this means is that Resistance has no existence on its own. It arises (like Newton’s Third Law: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”) only in response to a creative impulse, to a dream of potentiality, to a vision of something that might be.

Your book.

Your movie.

Your orphanage in Nepal.

Resistance is the shadow that appears only after your dream arises into the sunlight of your imagination.

2. The force of Resistance (again like Newton’s Third Law) is equal and opposite to the scale of your dream and of its importance to the evolution of your soul.

Tiny dream, tiny Resistance.

Big dream, big Resistance.

3. Resistance is always strongest at the finish line.

Big Resistance near the end = You’re very close!

See what I mean by Resistance paying you a compliment?

The final fact to keep in mind about Resistance as a force of nature (which it is) is that it’s as infallible as gravity or the rising and setting of Arcturus. We can count absolutely on Resistance acting in accordance with its own laws. It has no choice.

So …

Big Resistance = Big Dream.

(In other words, Roda must really be onto something in her book, even if she doesn’t realize it herself.)

Big Resistance at the finish line = we are very close.

(Roda only has to push a little more and she will break through.)

Resistance is infallible = Believe this, baby!

(Our conclusion is not subjective and not wishful thinking. It’s as true as the tides and as certain as the turning of the earth.)

In The War of Art and other books, I’ve characterized Resistance as a dragon or a demon, something fierce and hostile. This is true. But that very fierceness and hostility can act as a beacon or a compass for us. We can make it work in our favor. When we feel the full force of Resistance, we know for certain that we’re headed in the right direction.

And paradoxically, if we take Resistance’s ferocity as the compliment that it truly is, it can infuse us with the fresh resolution and courage we need to overcome it.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

41 Responses to “When Resistance Pays You a Compliment”

  1. June 24, 2015 at 6:43 am

    As usual you have hit the nail on the head (which is sort of the same feeling as resistance). You need to hammer the nail all the way in to finish the job. OUCH!! and then HOORAY!! I will try friending resistance.

  2. June 24, 2015 at 6:43 am

    I was feeling such resistance to something I’ve agreed to do … and “want” to do, but have been stuck on. Thank you for this really important and timely reminder.

  3. Mary Doyle
    June 24, 2015 at 6:56 am

    What a great spin on Resistance – it works harder when you do – thanks for the important reminder!

  4. Stephen Rethmeier
    June 24, 2015 at 6:56 am

    Thanks for this timely perspective and encouragement. In the middle of a writing project and just had a day where I was sure the whole thing was dumb and I should give up. I kept saying to myself it was just resistance, but truthfully, I wasn’t sure. Resistance as a compliment is a great way to frame it.

  5. Tom Braunger
    June 24, 2015 at 6:57 am

    Even in my second book, twenty short stories on weird expeeriences teaching,the resistance is strong. I’m also racing time because my health is not good, and I’m 73, hard to snap back.
    But I learned one thing: you can’t force a story out. It needs to simmer and shape itself for the full flavor to come out. So my editor gave me some sound advice: three drafts, with one day between each draft, to figure out the weak spots.Then ship her the third draft for editing.
    Thanks again for your wonderful insights.

  6. June 24, 2015 at 7:01 am

    Great perspective! I love it. This is why I love the blog. I have read and re-read “The War of Art”, “Turning Pro”, “Do the Work”…but my mind must be a sieve. I need to be reminded daily. Thank you.
    bsn

  7. marvin Ginsberg
    June 24, 2015 at 7:07 am

    Bingo! I will not resist resistance anymore!

  8. Lind Roach
    June 24, 2015 at 7:25 am

    Well – I must be on to something huge with my screenplay, resistance has had a hold on my for a while now. I shall press on. Thanks for your articulate insight as always Mr. Pressfield.

  9. June 24, 2015 at 7:52 am

    I’ve said this exact thing to people before! Glad to see we think alike…

  10. June 24, 2015 at 8:03 am

    Nice allusion to one of my favorite scenes. Replace the politically incorrect ‘injun’ with resistance and I think it might apply.

    Ethan: Our turnin’ back don’t mean nothin’, not in the long run. She’s alive, she’s safe… for a while. They’ll keep her to raise her as one of their own till, until she’s of an age to…

    Martin: Don’t you think there’s a chance we still might find her?

    Ethan: Injun will chase a thing till he thinks he’s chased it enough. Then he quits. Same way when he runs. Seems like he never learns there’s such a thing as a critter that’ll just keep comin’ on. So we’ll find ’em in the end, I promise you. We’ll find ’em. Just as sure as the turnin’ of the earth.

    From The Searchers

  11. June 24, 2015 at 8:16 am

    Excellent perspective. As a student of Hapkido it struck me as I read this post that you’ve articulated one of the fundamental dynamics of physical self-defense as you’ve talked here about “inner” self-defense. If you simply try to resist force being directed against you, strength for strength, its easy to be overwhelmed. But if you instead re-direct that force instead of just opposing it, you turn our opponent’s effort to your own advantage. By recognizing increased Resistance as a compliment as you’ve said, I can actually turn the energy that’s trying to shut me down into motivating fuel to press forward. Thanks for sharing this!

  12. June 24, 2015 at 8:23 am

    Beautiful! Heroic! How grateful I am for all that you see and write and enlighten!

  13. Aaron C
    June 24, 2015 at 8:30 am

    Thanks for this! The further I seem to get on my screenplay, the longer the breaks seem to get in between periods of work on it (and, consequently, the more I beat myself up about it). Now I know why!

  14. June 24, 2015 at 8:38 am

    I had an “epiphany” several months ago. It was not like any other epiphany I’ve had, this one has wings and I feel as if it is like a fledging waiting to fly. It seems real and I am mournful when I don’t honor it in that way. It is as if I can hold it in my hands to comfort, encourage or teach it.

    Because of my “Epiphany”, my little fledgling named, I resolved, “If not now, when?” Not all that unusual of a reckoning with fate, but something was different, it was clear as death peeked in on me, demanding that I do something before it comes.

    The next day after “Epiphany” arrived I joined a gym and even got a trainer. I signed up so there could be no turning back. My body needed to be trimmed and made strong, for my journey would be full.

    I am an artist: sculpture and oils of woman, all strong. I have sabotaged my efforts for so long that I cannot imagine “Resistance” not living here. Resistance disguised itself though and I guess I just got complacent about it’s presence. Enough though! After reading this I held “Epiphany” and stroked her little feathers. I had to tell her I was sorry. And just like my inner child, I will protect her from all the forces that rush in to take us both down.

    I have been putting off redoing my websites for 6 YEARS! Because of Epiphany I have started. I could feel myself dragging though, and now I know what and who that is! Resistance! Gads! Do not fear precious Epiphany, we are going to be OK. We are going to move forward because “if not now, when?”

    Thank you, thank you for this!

  15. June 24, 2015 at 8:48 am

    Sadly and beautifully, Resistance’s attention marks the level of our challenge… and our potential.

    I’m thankful of the compliment… but know Resistance would love it if I became flattered. Resistance’s compliments are a signal we’re almost there, and a call to work even harder.

    Loved this post. :)

    • June 25, 2015 at 8:01 am

      Chad,
      Good point. Nothing like taking flattery from evil to really toy with your mind!
      bsn

  16. J Thomas
    June 24, 2015 at 9:03 am

    I slurped this column like a good cup of tea.

    Just what I needed.

  17. June 24, 2015 at 9:05 am

    I could never figure out why finishing a book was harder for me than starting one. It was like pulling teeth to get me to focus, sit, and write. I thought something was wrong with me, that I needed a psychologist to figure out this resistance. When all the time is was “resistance” keeping me from achieving something that would build my self-confidence, boost my self-image, and give me a purpose. Thank you for clarifying the mystery of why I’m not moving forward.

  18. Ave
    June 24, 2015 at 9:05 am

    Beating myself up, how stupid, everything I’ve done in the past, what a waste of time. Just give up now and be done! Get on with something else. Go and have a drink with the girls, do girl stuff, socialise more. All this self talk lately has been stopping me from getting on. No, I’m not going to read Steve’s post. But I did. And how pleased I did. Now get back to work and press on…stay the course. Again, you’ve uplifted me. Thank you

  19. June 24, 2015 at 9:09 am

    This morning I am totally overwhelmed by the last hour’s work on my latest novel.

    I know where I am. I know there’s not much left. But I’d rather go leap from the deck and land on my skull than look at that manuscript one more time.

    I’ve been worried that what I thought was a gorgeous creature is really the Bride of Frankenstein.

    If it was that ugly, probably easier to let it go out into the world, huh?

    Thanks again for a reassuring post, Steve. I have a hard time believing that anything I’m doing is so worthy, but I can’t NOT believe you on this. So, I’m trusting, and I’m gonna go write.

    • June 24, 2015 at 11:07 am

      Don’t forget Joel, that to Frankenstein’s monster, the Bride was a beautiful thing! Keep on plugging away!

      • July 8, 2015 at 7:15 am

        Ha! Yes indeed. Beholder, eye, and all that.

  20. Sonja
    June 24, 2015 at 9:53 am

    Oh how I love these posts and your personal way of sharing your stories. Thank you!!

  21. roger ganas
    June 24, 2015 at 10:28 am

    resistance sneaks up from behind, whispers in my ear- “really, it”s ok to give up, you gave it your best shot”..and before I can respond–REACH AROUND!..and I succumb. (happens all the time)

  22. Ann
    June 24, 2015 at 10:49 am

    Ha, I’m at exactly that point. Summoning up the courage to email my second novel to my agent. Feeling nervous because she put in a lot of work on my first novel – and didn’t manage to sell it…. So….

  23. June 24, 2015 at 10:50 am

    Love it, love it, love it! You will help so many people defeat Resistance. God bless. :)

  24. June 24, 2015 at 11:55 am

    OMG. This is what I’m going through. This kicking and screaming inside to stay still, not feel, not change, not burst out something big. I don’t even know what it is, but it’s painful. Way bigger than just a book. It’s about my biz…

  25. June 24, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    Some one i respect led me here today..just when i needed this introduction to your inspiration. I was drawn to the community of replyers…don’t really know if its a compliment but more of a realization that something of a comfort zone exists and i know these people are in it…Like i am.. and i will take another step today because of this insight.. or perhaps its a ‘cyber permission granted’ mode…Back to you all when i have something to show…

  26. Marvin Waschke
    June 24, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    Thank you Steven. Thank you. I am at work on the 13th chapter of a 14 chapter book. My project manager and editor are both whacking me with 2x4s, and I can’t bring myself to start in the morning. When I beat myself hard enough to start, the words flow and the ideas are there, but anything, I mean anything, distracts me. My dog scratching, the shadow of a bird crossing my office. Anything.

    You have revealed exactly what I needed to hear. Back to work!

  27. Kathy
    June 24, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    This article hit home as I am completing my last two chapters of my first novel. It’s as if I’m pushing against a force that wants me to throw all away as I see my ending as not what I had dreamed and schemed.
    It’s great to hear this is nothing more than the specter of Resistance that wants me to fold up in defeat. I can’t let this defeat happen. Thanks for pointing out how resistance is a common battle for authors to fight against to win.

  28. Foreigner (from Elea)
    June 24, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    Genius.

    (With all that entails.)

    Thank you.

  29. Rorkus
    June 25, 2015 at 8:36 pm

    Commenting here is a form of resistance; get back to work!

  30. June 26, 2015 at 12:54 pm

    Love your words here. Made me smile and brought tears at the same time. I’m also near the end and resistance is tapping my shoulder daily. I’m printing this out and keeping it close to remind myself. Thanks Steve.

  31. June 28, 2015 at 9:28 pm

    Many thanks for this awesome blog Steven. Timing is PERFECT!
    Thank you so much & big hugs from beautiful New Zealand.
    cheers
    Amy x

  32. June 29, 2015 at 4:40 am

    It does seem to follow that with every great squeeze a vacuum is formed.

    I have missed these kinds of posts about resistance. I still see it in my every day life and still wish to abolish it!

  33. June 29, 2015 at 6:33 am

    Thanks Steven for your books!

    …I procrastinated with “The War on Art” and “Turning Pro”. As you say, seeking help is also resistance. But in case of your books it’s a humiliating trap. And I love it! There are no excuses left. There is no choice then to face the demon or to become one.
    I also learned through your books to really understand the concept of fairy tales and its direct influence on life.

    With deepest respect and gratitude!
    Patryk

  34. June 29, 2015 at 8:29 pm

    This is powerful. ‘Remember: the level of Resistance we feel at any point is directly related to the power of our vision and to how important our project is to the evolution of our soul.’ I’ve said this to myself and confidants many times about my current book project. Completing this manuscript will open new doors to my work and life, maybe even love. So do I have a choice tomorrow but to get up and get to the desk and take Resistance on? No I really don’t.

  35. Josh Alquiza
    June 30, 2015 at 12:54 pm

    Good article! There are so many Physics analogies you can get from this! Coincidentally, I was just teaching this about an hour ago so this is quite fresh in my head [I am a College Physics instructor].

    First though, resistance to motion, i.e. resistance to your dream, is actually called ‘inertia’ in Physics. The bigger an object’s mass, then the greater its inertia. Similarly, the bigger the dream, more resistance you’ll get. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try! :)

    Also, the resistance as you put it in accordance with Newton’s 3rd law of motion would refer to the reaction force. In order for their to be a reaction there has to be an action force to start with. They both exist together and none can exist without the other. They also both happen simultaneously. Remove the action, and the reaction [resistance] disappears. This is another analogy akin to your that resistance to your dream is normal and is most probably a sign you’re going in the right direction.

    Finally, building a dream also takes ‘momentum’ as well, yet another Physics analogy. Momentum in Physics can be simply put as ‘inertia in motion’. It depends once again on the mass or how fast an object is going. A smaller object going really fast could have the same momentum as a much larger object yet moving even slower. The momentum of an object, or your dream, will not change unless there is an outside force that will change it or kick it into motion (or slow it down). This is the Law of the Conservation of Momentum.

    I guess the analogy here is that even though your progress is slow doesn’t mean you’ve lost momentum. You may just be moving something really big. Also, sometimes you need some ‘external force’ – some encouragement, advice, critique, input, etc. – from another person who could offer a different, fresh perspective on your dream. They could even remind you the reason why you started in the first place. A little well-placed word of encouragement or inspiration could go a long, long way.

    As I write this I realize that I am even encouraging myself to press on my own writing projects, especially in the midst of all the grading and teaching preparation that I have to do.

    Thanks for this article of encouragement! Let’s press on!

  36. July 3, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    Resistance showing up in a visible way is a way for you to know you are following the north star. You are uncomfortable, and it is a means to know that you are learning.

  37. July 8, 2015 at 7:03 am

    Just a few more chapters, and I’m trudging through soft desert sand toward a receding horizon. Thank you for the oasis.

  38. July 22, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    Does she have to compliment me every day?