Michael Dante DiMartino discusses the work of conquering creative resistance as he approached his second novel, Warrior Genius.
Resistance Strikes Back
by Michael Dante DiMartino
The Joys of Completion
“The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
-Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
Have you ever taken on a creative project and finished it?
Maybe you cooked a meal or tended a garden or made a movie or started a company. When you’re driven to create something, it’s natural to put your whole heart into the process in hopes of making the final product the best it can be. And when you have completed a project, you might feel accomplished and proud because you’ve made something that, before your efforts, had never existed.
Congratulations! Definitely savor that moment.
It won’t last long.
The Aftermath of Creation
“If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), ‘Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?’ chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”
-Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
Last year, on the launch of my first novel, Rebel Genius, I wrote about my struggles with creative anxiety — or as Stephen Pressfield dubbed it — Resistance.
No doubt you’ve encountered Resistance too. It goes by different names:
But whatever veil it hides behind, Resistance only has one goal — to stop you from creating.
Since 2015, my primary creative project has been writing the three novels in the Rebel Geniuses series. And while I’m still drafting the third book, the end is in sight. I’m excited to reach this final milestone that a few years ago seemed an impossibility.
When I completed my first book, Rebel Genius, I sat back for a moment and patted myself on the back for finishing my first novel and getting it published.
And I optimistically believed that I might have conquered Resistance.
But as I started the second book, Warrior Genius, I quickly realized Resistance wasn’t done with me yet.
Far from it.
Following a creative victory, Resistance retreats for a brief time, but don’t be fooled. You haven’t killed Resistance. While you find inspiration for your next project, Resistance revives, summoning more power. And when you sit down to create, Resistance returns stronger, hell-bent on making sure that this time, you don’t reach the finish.
While I was struggling through my second book, I wondered why my earlier creative victory had emboldened Resistance, rather than weakened it. Why hadn’t finishing a book scared off Resistance? Why couldn’t I make it go away?
One reason could be imposter syndrome.
This feeling of self-doubt arises once you’ve achieved success, no matter how big or small.
Thinking back over the 16 or so months that I was working on Warrior Genius, I remember many days where I sat down to write and felt like I was an imposter.
I had thoughts like: My first book was a fluke.
When people read this, they’ll realize that I’m a terrible writer.
I have no business pursuing a writing career or calling myself an author.
Resistance uses negative thoughts like these to persuade you and me to give up. And boy, those thoughts can be convincing. When Resistance strikes back, it does so with the aim of killing our creativity for good.
Take Control of the Process
“How many pages have I produced? I don’t care. Are they any good? I don’t even think about it. All that matters is I’ve put in my time and hit it with all I’ve got. All that counts is that, for this day, for this session, I have overcome Resistance.”
― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
Resistance is most dangerous when you are unsure of where your next project is heading or when the feelings of imposter syndrome become overwhelming. These are a few strategies I used to overcome Resistance while writing the follow-ups to Rebel Genius They’re not foolproof, but they helped me regain control of my creative process during times when it went off the rails.
Plan ahead. I always use outlines to plan my books because I know Resistance will take hold if I don’t have an idea about what I want to write. So at the end of each day, I look ahead to the next couple of scenes and jot down notes about what will happen. These could take the form of a beat-by-beat scene breakdown, or a paragraph of ideas I want to explore. When Resistance shows up, I refer back to my plan and remind myself that I know what I need to do. Then I can refocus and get back to writing.
Mix it up. I wrote my first two books on the computer. But as I started my third novel, my old nemeses Resistance was back again. One day, inspiration struck, and I thought: What if I wrote this draft by hand? I turned my back to my computer (literally) and drafted the third Rebel Geniuses book longhand.
Almost at once, the usual anxiety I felt when I stared at the blank computer screen disappeared, and the words started flowing from my pen. And most surprising, I found it fun to write in that format. My takeaway from this experience was that Resistance knows your patterns and habits, so it can pinpoint where and when to strike. If you alter your process, you can confound Resistance and keep it at bay.
Walk away. Usually, it’s best to work through a creative block, but I have days when the writing just isn’t flowing. So rather than fight Resistance, sometimes I surrender. I get out of my office and go for a stroll, or read a book, or go out for coffee. The danger of walking away is that if you do it too often, it’s harder to get back into the creative groove. But sometimes you need to let yourself take a break. I find that when I do, I often figure out a way to deal with whatever problem was hindering me, and once I return to my desk, I’m inspired to keep writing.
The Cycle Continues
I wish I knew a strategy to kill Resistance permanently. The truth is, I don’t think there is one. But with each successive creative victory, Resistance will start to get weary. Once it knows you have strategies to drive it away, its attacks become less frequent.
Creativity is a life-long struggle. Resistance might win a few battles over the years, but if you stay committed to the work and keep an eye out for potential pitfalls, you can stop Resistance from ever winning the war.
You can learn more about Michael and his books at michaeldantedimartino.com.