A few years ago, I read a motivational book called The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield.
As motivational books go, it was pretty excellent. It had a few easy-to-remember ideas that have stuck with me for over ten years, and I think about them sometimes when I’m feeling discouraged and they help me reassess and get back on track. I’m not sure how revolutionary the book is within its genre, but my impression of most self-help books is that most of us really only need one or two really good ones. You find the one that resonates with you the most, and that fills the space on your shelf for action-oriented life advice. Then you stop reading self-help books, and go do the things the book told you to do to make your life what you want it to be.
Anyway, the book begins by focusing on the concept of Resistance, which Pressfield talks about as being this nebulous evil force in the universe that is out to keep you from doing your life’s work. What I like about this is that, by framing your mission in life as an epic, cosmic struggle against Resistance, he takes a lot of my worst, most self-critical thoughts and makes it not about my own innate laziness, but about an outside force throwing obstacles in my path.
It’s hard to accomplish stuff when every failure is proof that you’re a lazy, insufficiently-motivated hypocrite. Make your failures a temporary loss to Resistance, and there’s hope that you can get up and win the next day.
Anyway, one of my favorite passages in this book had to do with his concept of work. I’ve never liked the concept of an artist as this esoteric savant who is able to produce works of genius at the drop of a hat the moment inspiration strikes. I much prefer William Faulkner’s characterization of writing and inspiration:
I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at nine every morning.
It’s an “if you build it, they will come” mentality. Sit down to write, and the words will come. Not easily, perhaps. But they will come.
Another thing Pressfield mentions in his book is the idea of thinking about your work as a business, of viewing what you’re doing as “You, inc.,” and treating it with that level of respect and seriousness.
After years of freelance writing, treating myself as my own client is an appealing idea, and one I’m quite familiar with.
The past couple months I’ve added internal projects to my Freshbooks account for Russian Studies and Writing. I’m trying to do ten hours a month to start, and to track time to these projects as I go. I haven’t been very good about remembering to track my time, but I’m going to keep the practice a little longer. I’ll probably hit about 8 out of my ten hours for Russian Studies this month, but my Writing is only at 2.
But even if I haven’t delivered the best service to myself as a client this month, that isn’t to say it’s time to throw the concept out the window. Most of accomplishing anything is putting in the time. It should be good time, productive time, time spent striving to be better rather than giving in to distraction. That’s something I know how to do, if I clear the space for it.
I’m still in business. I haven’t fired myself yet. It’s time to get back to work.