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SLANT LETTER: Rituals of Resistance
Things to help when you’re feeling the “can’t” in your creative process.
You’re reading SLANT LETTER and if you’re new here, welcome! This monthly letter is designed for writers like you looking to deepen your craft and practice soul care in the creative life. It’s written by me, Stephanie Duncan Smith, an editor in the publishing industry. You can catch my recent interview with Emily P. Freeman on The Next Right Thing podcast about trusting the process, my IG Live chat with Erin Lane about her book Someone Other Than a Mother, and stay tuned for more Live discussions in this writing process summer series!
Some years ago, I was on a plane barreling down the runway for a work trip, and a five-year-old girl who was having her first flight experience yelled out to the whole cabin, “We’re DOOOOOMED.”
It has since become a comical catchphrase in our household, because what better shorthand is there for an ominous situation of which the outcome is, at best, unclear? This kid was certain none of this was going to end well. In her imagination, the future was a foregone conclusion.
In the imagination of the writer, the work can be, at times, a forgone conclusion.
When the writing gets stuck in a rut, often the thought becomes, This doesn’t end well. And we have to take care not to speak the self-fulfilling prophecy of “can’t” over our craft.
I always love when there’s a proper name for hard-to-pin dynamics and experiences, and Steven Pressfield has iconically named this very mentality in his book, The War on Art. He writes,
“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”
And perhaps a voice yelling over your rough drafts and writing attempts, “YOU’RE DOOOOOMED.”
Resistance is the pushback we experience to our creative lives, whether through the frustration of interruptions, the burn of rejections, the paralysis of writer’s block or self-doubt, the shame of procrastination or unmet (unrealistic) expectations. To create is to give shape to something new, but resistance is the counterforce we are met with when we try.
It’s terribly disempowering to be pushed and feel you have no resources to push back. But this is what the creative process makes of us, if we let it, we become people who show up to the work, and push back to resistance.
The good news for all of us is that we get better at pushing back through practice.
Forget strokes of genius, which is a myth that belongs with the minotaurs. There is only practice.
As you practice writing anyway, two things happen: first, you might discover resistance is more big talk and less almighty than you first believed, and second, you might just find your strength, your stride, your very voice, to stand square in the wind and shout your counter.
The pushback takes muscles, and muscles are built through the incremental strength of practice. We understand this. But did you know that your diaphragm—the very source of your voice—is a muscle?
This newsletter is all about the slant, but let me tell this much straight: you were made for this. Your voice has always had everything it needs to summon its strength and push back against the forces that seek to shut down, sideline, and silence you. Resistance will come for any creative, rest assured, but it is no match for the muscle behind your voice.
And what a delicious moment that is: when resistance comes shoving, and you push back.
Through practice, we access the defiant power of creating anyway. We build creative confidence through putting down the words anyway. Resilience is always an imperfect practice, but it’s how we stir our strength, and it’s how the muscle is made.
So let’s take a look at some rituals of resistance to help us push back:
Let today be a Try Day
Today is not a foregone conclusion. Today can be the day you put in The Try, and in the end, isn’t that everything? We make it harder on ourselves when we expect flow. Expect resistance, rather, and it won’t take you down by taking you by surprise. Let’s release ourselves from barreling into the day expecting a perfect flow state. Let the scratch-outs show that you went for it.
Create a fight songs playlist
When I was in my third trimester with my daughter, I sent out an S.O.S. to friends to help me create a labor playlist. The nominations came in, and I was able to channel the defiant power of those who know me and love me in a moment when I needed it most. I titled it, “Fight Songs,” and it became the soundtrack to one of the greatest fights of my life. Music has a way of pumping us up, of ushering us into a rhythm that gets us dancing and believing, I can. Your writing practice deserves this.
Put yourself in the path of inspiration
This gem is from Shauna Niequist as she writes in her new book, I Guess I Haven’t Learned that Yet:
“Inspiration is my responsibility. Inspiration is part of the job description. It doesn’t strike like lightening. I lay myself open to receive it. You can’t manhandle it or make demands of it, but you can put yourself in the path of it.”
You better believe I underlined that for all of us. I have found that nothing gets a writer out of a rut like reading does. If the writing gets stuck, go back to your first love, and read the gift of someone else’s flow. Chances are, it will inspire yours.
Save the good feedback and speak it over today’s work
I’m a big believer in saving every good word that’s said about your craft. Personally, I have a designated email folder, a photo album with screenshots, and a round-up Word doc of feedback I’ve received along the years. When you’re in the thick of resistance, no good word gets old! And I love the idea of kicking off a fresh writing session with reading one, to help you remember your fire and lend momentum to keep fighting forward.
We’re not doomed, friends. Resistance might be loud, but the muscle at work supporting your very voice is a force to be reckoned with. And it’s got something to say. May these rituals of resistance support you on your way.
Until next time,
Take heart. Write on. You got this.
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P.S. // A Blessing for Writers
SLANT LETTER is about both craft + soul care for the creative life. So for each issue, I want to speak this blessing for all of us anxious, ambitious, internet-exhausted writing folk.