Better Writing? Embrace Resistance

Last week, as I sat in the darkness of an indoor cycling class—happy up-tempo music blaring from invisible speakers—our cheerful and impossibly fit instructor told us, “Turn up the resistance! If it’s not hard, you’re not getting stronger.”

Okay, okay, this may not be a deep philosophical observation, but the more I thought about her perky suggestion, the more I realized this piece of advice was meaningful beyond the walls of my gym.

I can sense eye rolling. I get it, but stick with me for a minute.

Most of us know that for a muscle to get stronger, it needs to be stressed– ideally to the point of failure. After some rest, the next time that muscle is stressed to the same level, it can handle the strain with more ease. That’s not to say that things get easy, but our bodies’ ability to handle the stress becomes, well, less stressful.

This month has been full of writing-related tasks that cause me stress. I’ll come straight out and say it: I’m not a natural when it comes to the marketing and publicity aspect of being a writer. My body tenses at the mere thought of something as simple as re-tweeting a review. My mind can come up with all sorts of reasons to defend my resistance to this aspect of being an author—some persuasive, other ridiculous—but the fact remains: interviews, blogs, podcasts, and social media posts are part of being a writer. Whether I like it or not.

This month, I was asked to do an interview with Publisher’s Weekly. Then there’s the interview with the New York Times bestselling author Linda Castillo, who happens to be one of my idols, for the July issue of Big Thrill. I felt just a bit panicky. No—strike that—I felt a lot panicky.

Then I went to that cycling class and started thinking about resistance. We all have challenges in our lives that are uniquely hard for us, even if they’re not objectively difficult. For me, all things promotion are tough. As I sweated through the class, I realized the same principles that have helped me become more skillful as a rider are the same principles that can help me become more skillful as a writer. I may never be the savviest marketer on the planet any more than I’m likely to win the Tour de France, but I can do both better and with more ease.

How?

  1. Accept feeling uncomfortable. No one is permanently hurt by discomfort. Sure, it doesn’t feel good, but it will end. Plus, if you do it today, it’ll be easier tomorrow. With time and repetition, you’ll slowly be able to do with ease what used to be a struggle.
  2. Get to know your resistance. Are you resistant because you feel you don’t measure up? Is that self-judgment accurate? If it is, work on it. I remember a phrase in a professional book review for Blessed Be the Wicked that was far from flattering. It stung. Why? Because the review hit on a weakness I knew was on the mark. I took it to heart. I spent time on my craft, and, I hope, improved in Death in the Covenant. This isn’t to say that all negative reviews have something helpful in them any more than all positive reviews are gospel, but if you want to become more skillful, it’s worth taking a little time—even if it’s painful—to determine if there’s a lesson to be learned. If there is, learn it.
  3. Ask for help if you need to. If you’re anything like me, asking for help doesn’t come naturally. It’s strange to be resistant to asking for help because most of us enjoy helping other people. Think about the last time a writer friend asked you for help. My guess is that you not only were happy to help, but that helping made you happy. When you can use a little help, just ask. Writers are a very supportive tribe.
  4. Do it anyway. Just do the thing. Finish that manuscript, submit that short story, go to the writers conference, join a writing organization, or send out the query letter. If you fail, so what? In fact, if you fail you’ll be doing exactly the thing my cheerful cycling instructor talked about: you’ll get stronger, and, probably, a little more fearless. And that’s what writing is all about.
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