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Jane Chafin

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How to Conquer Your Creative Demons

Posted: 04/ 5/2012 3:35 pm

Creative Block. We've all had it. I'm trying to work through it as I write this sentence -- negative thoughts, distractions, rationalizations, avoidance and procrastination all dance before me, trying to get me to do anything but write. It's a beautiful day. I should be outdoors gardening, not hunched over my keyboard. But here I am. I sit down, drink coffee, play with my cats, play a couple of games of Scrabble Blast, and eventually start to write. Everything else melts away and I am magically "in the zone."

In his 2002 book, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles author Steven Pressfield defines the powerful enemy that keeps us from doing what we should be doing, and names it Resistance:

"Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance... Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet... To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be."

Just how powerful does Pressfield think this enemy is?:

You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. At eighteen he took his inheritance, seven hundred kronen, and moved to Vienna to live and study... Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it overstatement but I'll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.

Pressfield takes the reader on a journey through the many manifestations of Resistance, from self-doubt and procrastination to fear, identifying and offering advice about how to overcome them:

Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance. They're the sign of an amateur. The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come...

I found Pressfield's short chapter on Resistance and Fundamentalism particularly interesting. While he may be over-simplifying, I think he's on to something:

Fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive. There is no such thing as fundamentalist art. This does not mean that the fundamentalist is not creative. Rather, his creativity is inverted. He creates destruction... To combat the call of sin, i.e., Resistance, the fundamentalist plunges either into action or into the study of sacred texts. He loses himself in these, much as the artist does in the process of creation. The difference is that while the one looks forward, hoping to create a better world, the other looks backward, seeking to return to a purer world from which he and all have fallen... When Fundamentalism wins, the world enters a dark age.

The following video shows how one artist got over her creative block.

The War of Art is packed with wisdom, wit, humor and advice, and delivers that kick in the pants we all sometimes need to get off the couch and get to work. Whether you're an artist, writer or entrepreneur, whether you read this book cover to cover or pick it up and read random bits, The War of Art will help you recognize and work through your creative demons.

Cross-posted from Jane Chafin's Offramp Gallery Blog