Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Quick Word... On Overcoming Procrastination

This week I read three books by Steven Pressfield. Some of you may be familiar with his work from watching or reading The Legend of Bagger Vance. He is also famous however, for his books on Alexander the Great and the Ancient Greeks, particularly Gates of Fire, which covers the Spartan battle of Thermopylae, and has become required reading in the U.S. Marine Corps. Pressfield, above all else, is a hardworking, dedicated and prolific writer. I consumed The Warrior Ethos and Do The Work insatiably, but it was the signed copy of The War of Art that I had picked up at Robert McKee's STORY seminar that really proved itself to be invaluable.

Pressfield gives procrastination a name. He calls it 'Resistance'. Resistance, he tells us, faces everyone who has ever considered doing something in which immediate personal satisfaction is delayed in the pursuit of overall personal development. If you've ever tried getting fit, eating healthy, getting educated, overcoming an addiction, or making pretty much any form of art, you've met Resistance before. Pressfield says that each of us have two lives - the life we actually live, and the lives we would have ourselves live. The barrier between them? Resistance.

The difference between an amateur and a pro in Pressfield's book is simple. A pro turns up to work. The successful artist, the successful fitness-nut, the successful shop assistant, are all the same in their achievement. All they did was show up and get working.

What's interesting about Resistance is that overcoming it is always more rewarding than the simple pleasures of the here and now. Whether it is an essay, a jog, or a piece of writing, the hard lesson I have had to learn myself is not to put off the project until 'I'm ready'. I am always ready. The only thing that will make me more ready is practice. More doing.

This is particularly true of writing. Many writers I know my age feel unprepared for writing a 'proper novel', myself included, but the fact is that the only worthwhile form of preparation is repetition. If Gary Ablett didn't kick a football because he 'wasn't ready', if Tiger Woods never swung a golf club because he 'needed more time to mull on it', they would not be world masters of their craft. So too does anyone who puts off anything because they feel uninspired and unprepared, fail their own ambitions and dreams.

When I first started working at Stories Bookshop in Launceston, I told my boss I wanted to be a writer.
"Oh yeah," he said. "Do you know what the definition of a writer is?"
"Uhh... No?"
"Someone who writes."

And so with everything in which Resistance, the unspoken enemy, raises its ugly head, it's that simple. And it's that difficult. My advice is that you just get started. Now. And you don't stop.

Best of luck.

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