Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: resistance

On The Creative Flow and Kidney Stones

     Sometimes there is a flow, y’know?

     Sometimes it all just comes out, rushing and tripping over itself to get on the page. It comes so fast and so hard that you spend hours and hours throwing it down, but the stream still doesn’t let up. Not until you’re finally mentally and even a bit physically exhausted. Then you pack up, go home and have a great day.

     But sometimes it’s different. Sometimes it’s like having kidney stones.

     You can feel the flow, deep inside of you. It wants out. No, it needs out. So you go to the place where you can get it out, but it doesn’t come the way you want it to. It comes out in frustrating trickles. And it hurts. It hurts so much that you don’t even want to do it anymore. So you throw it down and walk away.

     But you can’t stay away for long. You need to get it out. Even though every time you try, the pain flares up and you begin to hate the process.

     What do you do then?

     Keep trying. Keep working. I know it hurts. I know you can see blood in it and it kinda smells funny. That’s fine. It’s alright. It’s still coming out, and that’s what is important. Eventually the stone will pass. It’ll pass when the pain and the struggle is at its zenith. Then, suddenly, you’ll be cured and the flow will return.

     I’ve had creative kidney stones for a week now. It hurts. I feel like I’m bleeding onto the page. I’m probably going to miss my self-imposed deadline, unless this stone gets passed today. But I’m not too discouraged. I’m still standing over the toilet, trying my best. Sweating and groaning and swearing, but still here. It’ll pass one day.

     And, yes, I did just liken the entire creative process to urination. So there.

Thoughts on Starting a Novel

     The Shadow’s Daughter is done. A couple beta readers are pouring over my final revision and I can’t wait to deal with their considerations, but for now, it’s done.

     When I started The Shadow’s Daughter, I had no idea where it was going. I was doing two strange projects at the same time. One was about a very typical rag-tag group of adventurers off to find a mystic artifact (blaaaah). The other was a series of romantic serials I was writing for my wife. Both those stories died, and from their ashes rose The Shadow’s Daughter, first book of The Chronicler and the Bard.

     Yay, and stuff.

     So now that The Shadow’s Daughter is done, I turn my eyes to the next installment.

     I had forgotten how it felt to start something new.

     I once heard that writing a novel is like walking through a dark wood with a lantern. You only get to see a couple steps ahead of you, but you can get through the whole forest that way.

     Whoever said that didn’t mention the most obvious characteristic about walking through a dark forest with only a lantern.

     It’s scary as hell.

     Seriously, what if you get lost? What if you lose the path? Worse, what if the path is so well travelled that there’s no point in walking it? What if you’re going the wrong way and you never should have entered this stupid forest and why didn’t you wait until daytime and OMG I’M FREAKING OUT!

     So, there’s that.

     It’s also lonely.

     You don’t get to write novels in tandem. And when you try to talk about an unborn novel, it never goes right. People look at you as if you don’t know what you’re talking about. Because, frankly, you don’t. Not yet. You’re still wandering around in the woods.

     Scary and lonely.

     Which is why I’m glad I believe in muses.

     The muse is that strange spiritual critter who tells you the story. She’s the lantern you’re carrying as you wander through the woods. She’s Navi from Zelda who keeps saying “Hey, listen!” And while she may annoy the hell out of you sometimes, she knows the way. She knows the story that she wants you to tell.

     She’s the one who won’t let me get side-tracked or lost. She’s done this before, too. For a jillion years her and her kind have been whispering tales into our ears. She knows what she’s doing. And that’s nice.

     So here I am, just entering the woods again. I’m holding my lantern high and peering into the darkness. I take a step forward, and the lantern’s light stretches a bit further. It’s going to be okay. No, better than that. It’s going to be freaking awesome.

The Writer’s Home

     When thinking about the best place to write or do whatever our creative spirit moves us to do, there are phases.

     First, we picture the perfect environment as a place of seclusion with ample lighting, classical music in the background and an expensive mahogany desk. Or something like that. Probably something with a bunch of quotes on the wall. And maybe a poster. And an espresso machine.

     If we’re unlucky enough, we might even be able to manufacture such an environment. And we sit there, in our expensive chair made from baby cows, and frown.

     Because it didn’t help. Writing is still hard work.

     Then we figure that the environment counts for nothing. We force ourselves to adapt to every and any situation. We try to work at home, despite the screaming kids. We try to work at coffee shops, despite the noise. We try to steal a few hours at work on the night shift, despite the eerie silence and darkness. And things get better.

     But it’s still hard work.

     Since we’re versatile at this point, we end up doing our work in a variety of different places. And, if we’re mindful, we start to notice that our productivity levels are higher at certain places / times / settings. I, for example, discovered I work best in a public place, surrounded by people who don’t know me.

     And then a temptation arises.

     Because we suddenly realize that there is an ideal writing environment. It’s just a little counter-intuitive.

     This is a dangerous realization to touch, because it tempts us into thinking that all our bad days are due to the place we sit.

     My life does not allow me to sit at the coffee shop every day. If I’m lucky, I get there a couple times a week. And my work is certainly best there. One day at the coffee shop is worth four normal days. That stat makes me look at my normal days and question why I bother with them at all.

     But that thought fails to take stock of the inter-connectivity of … well, everything.

     What I do during the week touches my coffee shop weekends. If I spend the week in discouragement and idleness over my inability to transport my coffee shop environment to my night shifts, what sort of energy will I be passing on to the weekend? I’m pretty sure that the moment I neglect the hard, inefficient grind of the weekdays, I’ll start to fail even at the coffee shops.

     Because the writer’s home is not a room or a desk or a shop. It’s where the story is.

Steven Pressfield on Sin

     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.

     The humanist believes that humankind, as individuals, is called upon to co-create the world with God.

     – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Strange Things I’ve Learned About Writing

Some of the strange things I’ve learned about writing and all the sucky struggles that come with it.

  • Busyness does not even enter into it. When I first started writing I was working as an elementary school teacher. I taught two grades at once, every weekday. I received my textbooks a few months into the term so I was always very busy with lesson plans, homework marking, test writing, math re-learning and all that silliness. And within a year I had the first draft of a novel finished. The next year I was gloriously unemployed with nothing but leisure time. Despite my desperate yearnings, I wrote nearly nothing. The amount I write, I found, has nothing to do with how busy I am. Like Jello, there is always time for writing if I want it.
  • Multitasking sucks. Driving while listening to music. Cleaning while listening to audio books. Eating while reading. All these multi-tasking habits that I was raised on have been nothing but a burden to my craft. When I turn them off I have more success. So I’ll often drive to work in silence. I try to eat with nothing in front of me. When I read, I do nothing but read. When I work, I do nothing but work. And the mind is sharper for it. And the work is better for it.
  • The search for the ideal environment hamstrung my writing. Not because it was hard to achieve. But because when I finally got it (and I did), it sucked. A huge desk. An optional typewriter. Epic music in the background. It all served to distract. Now I try to write in places that are uncomfortable. I use the tiny ledge of a counter in the kitchen. If it’s too hot, I let it be hot. If I want a snack, I refuse to get it. Writing under perfect conditions is distracting because life is never perfect. And stories are elevated reality, not idealized reality.
  • Glorious things only look glorious from the outside. Remember Dragonball Z? Remember how in nearly every episode there was a scene of Goku flexing like a crazy person while golden flames danced around him and glorious power filled his body? It was always kinda inspiring. I used to figure the same sort of thing would happen in a perfect writing session. So I was always disappointed when it turned difficult. But look at Goku again! From the outside all we, the viewers, get to see is the fire and light and power. But look at Goku’s face. There is pain and effort and heartbreak there. The end result was wonderful, of course. But the summoning of the power was harsh and bloody and raw. That’s the way it is with writing. Pain and blood in the inside. Glory and beauty on the outside.
  • Writer’s block is a lie. Or at least a misnomer. It’s just what happens when the mind and heart turn lazy. And there are two good cures for laziness. Sleep and work. The situation dictates which one is needed.
  • Everyone’s process is different. Stephen King hates outlines. Brandon Sanderson loves them. They’re both right. There is not a lot of writing advice that is true across the board for everyone. Finding my own process instead of relying on the processes of others was one of the best things I ever did for my writing.
  • Resistance is everywhere. Crouching the the corners. Sneaking up from behind. It never leaves you alone. Best be on the lookout for him.

How to Win

     I’ve been winning for a month. Or nearly a month. When you win it’s hard to keep track of how long you’ve been winning. It’s easier to count the days slip by when you’re losing.
     Are you winning?
     We all seem to have something inside us prodding us to do something. The something is different for each one of us. Maybe it’s music. Maybe it’s film. Maybe it’s cooking or dancing or painting or sewing or reading or praying or humanitarian aid or jogging or karate. But it’s something. And we feel like it’s our thing to do. So we make plans, set goals and sit down to do our thing. And then, as we approach the starting blocks, it fizzles out and dies.
     We feel tired. We feel angry. We feel depressed. We feel like we’re no good a it. We feel like we’ll never accomplish anything. We feel resistance.
     My thing is fiction. There is nothing I like more than a good story. I’ve wanted to create my own for as long as I can remember. I’ve had fleeting successes, but I’ve never really been a winner. Until this month. I’m winning now. Every single day. And I think I know why. Shall I share?

     Know the Enemy.
     There is something insidious that works against anything good, creative or beautiful. It seeks to destroy, inhibit and pervert anything happy and alive. Steven Pressfield calls it Resistance. Theologians call it Sin. I’ve come to call it Hate. I call it that because of the way it rails and bites and spits with no goal other than destruction. Have you felt it? When you sit down to write your story? When you wake up early to start your spiritual disciplines? When you think about putting on your jogging shoes? It’s relentless. It’s evil. It makes you hate your thing. It wants to take you down.
     Once I realized it, I understood that every excuse I made for not doing my work was rooted in Hate. And every time I accepted those excuses, Hate won. And my thing was not created. Hate wants all things creative to cease. It’ll do anything it can to kill them. When you know the enemy is there, you realize that every step in the right direction is war. You realize that sometimes you have to work even when you’re hurt (emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically). Because Hate is always crouching at the door, and it’s desire is to destroy you and your art.
     And once you see the enemy, you accept that you must kill it if your thing is to live. And you can take the old Aiel purpose and make it your own: “Till shade is gone, till water is gone, into the Shadow with teeth bared, screaming defiance with the last breath, to spit in Sightblinder’s eye on the last Day.”

     Know the Ally
     Hate stands against you and your work. Love stands with you. Love, the greatest virtue, is primarily a spiritual and creative thing. Love always builds. Love delight in existence. It was for Love that God made the world. It was in Love that he put a part of himself in every human. And, through Love, we can create and achieve.
     All good creativity comes from the Outside. Its root is divine. And when we realize that it is not born within us, but outside us, we see that we can beg for it. We can reach out to the Creator and ask him to send a Muse to kiss our spirit so we can go forward and do what we were meant to do.
     And Love, of course, is stronger than Hate. For Love is, foundationally, something. While Hate, foundationally, is a non-thing. Love tends toward order and peace and life and existence. Hate tends towards chaos and violence and death and entropy.
     With an Ally like the Creator, how can Hate win? With Love we can trample the brats of hell under our feet and give to the world whatever gifts we have to give.

     And so I am winning. And I shall continue to win. And one day you will see the fruits of my victories.

     When will I see yours?

A Free Conversation

Do you know what it’s like to sit alone and free?

To have before you every tool could could possibly need?
A handful of high-quality pens.
A pretty pad of yellow paper.
A computer that rivals Deep Thought.
Even a clunky old typewriter from Goodwill, complete with upper-middle quality paper.
Peace and Quiet.
The knowledge that you will not be disturbed for hours to come.
Complete freedom.

Only to see that you have bound yourself.

An address to the choking chains:
Ho!
From where did you come?
I did not see you before!
Chains: Nevermore.
Me: Your ham-handed reference frightens me, though it hardly seems to fit.
Chains: What do you expect? I am choking out your wit.
Me: This I see clear. And your childish rhyme makes it all the clearer. Begone! I sit in my time of freedom.
Chains: And I seek to steal it from you.
Me: Why? Does my suffering bring you profit?
Chains: Nay, for I have no true existence to be profited.
Me: Then are you sent by a higher power to hinder me?
Chains: Nay, for I am so very low that the High Things always distain to deal with me.
Me: Then what are you? Answer me!
Chains: I can only gives answers in my native tongue – silence.
Me: That is no answer at all! At least no reasonable answer. For it implies you speak silence – an oxymoron if ever I heard one.
Chains: Nevermore.
Me: Again with that awkwardly inserted yet deeply frightening reference! What mean you? For the black bird spoke it to drive home the permanence of the loss the protagonist had suffered. Why have you spoken it?

And here the chain only rattles against itself. And I take hold with my left hand to settle it.

A thought: The chain, or course, cannot give up its secret or purpose. Neither can it bind or free of its own power. No. For it is a non-thing. Without power. And so I must find its source. The chain master.

So with my deft left I feel the sordid, lack-wit chain in the dark. And I follow it, aiming for its mighty source. How does it feel?

Long
Cold
Angry
Unliving
Unfeeling
Bloody
Guilty
Ashamed

I stop, for I have reached an end. I have found the source.

A hand.

I hand gripping tight. Callous and cold. I try to pry it off. But I cannot.

I grasp the wrist.

Arm

Shoulder

Neck.

Suddenly I feel warm fingers on my throat and a sickening truth shines in my mind.

I hold the chain.

In the dark, but not alone

Do you know what to do when it hits you?

When my dreams are large but I can’t pull them off. When I feel the desire throb within me like a wound. When it aches and spreads through my chest into my head. When I want it so bad I feel like I’ll die without it. And then, when the pain is at its height, I try to get up and fulfill the dream, but I cannot. Do you know that feeling? When you could do it – for there’s nothing really in your way – but you cannot? Your heart dies as you approach your dream and suddenly all the pain of desire turns on its head and becomes a pain of revulsion. Resistance. Anger. And then you sit back down and you wonder to yourself – “Do I hate my dream? I thought I loved it.” And you cannot tell what is wrong. And you cannot understand the depth of how screwed up you must be to passionately love and hate the same thing at the same time. Do you know that feeling? Have you felt that? Do you know what to do when it comes upon you?

I think that’s the time when it’s best to find somewhere dark and quiet, and pray.

And it helps, y’know. It actually helps.

Resist Resistance

I read a good blog post the other day.  You should read it, too.

Have you ever had an idea?  One of those, I’m-going-to-turn-the-world-upside-down ideas?  One of those It’s-so-crazy-it-just-couldn’t-work-but-wow-if-only-it-could-it’d-be-great ideas?  I did.

You’ve have one or two, too.  You know you have.  Hasn’t everybody, at one time or another?

My wife’s got one.  She’s gonna share it in a little while.  She’s moving forward with it.  I find myself wondering, why?  Why is it that my wife has started moving forward with her idea while most of us just tuck our ideas deep down inside and wait for them to suffocate and die?

That post I linked at the beginning has some good reasons.  They’re all the reasons that I haven’t moved forward with my earth-shattering ideas.

But isn’t it better to just move forward with those ideas?  I think it is.

You know who had a great idea?  David.  There’s this nasty giant guy who threatens the nation.  That’s a problem.  Ought to be solved.  And the king’s offering his hot daughter to whoever solves it.  Logic screams, “Be the one to solve it!”  Resistance simpers, “They’re all going to laugh at you.”  David takes care of business, saves the world and gets the girl.  No one’s laughing at him now.  They probably laughed at him when he started, but not when he finished.

Yeah, they’ll probably laugh at you when you start.  They might laugh at you the whole way through.  But it’s better to be laughed at and save the world, than to be ignored and…not.

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