I’ve noticed whenever I start writing a new scene, I feel an initial discomfort. Something in me resists writing it.
It’s not a fear of the blank page. It’s something deeper. More like the fear of an empty mind. The discomfort of not knowing what to say.
Like the cocktail party where you don’t know anyone but the host and can’t think of something to say to the guest next to you. The two-minute improvisation you have to perform in front of fellow dancers when nothing comes to mind.
Some people thrive in these environments.
I’m not one of them.
But when it comes to these moments of creative resistance, I think we can learn a lot from bodybuilders.
When I was in my late teens, I came across Bill Pearl’s classic book, Getting Stronger, on my father’s bookshelf.
Bill Pearl is a champion in the bodybuilding world, and his book is an encyclopedic text of weight training regimens for all levels and sports, as well as information on nutrition, health, and the history of bodybuilding.
One message he gives readers again and again is “start slowly and build up gradually.”
If you’re consistent, he says, you’ll see noticeable improvement quickly. But don’t get too ambitious, too soon. Rapid improvement doesn’t mean you can suddenly deadlift twice your body weight. You have to build resistance slowly by making it difficult for yourself, but not excruciating.
Weight lifting changed my relationship to difficulty. I learned that resistance–external or internal–was a challenge that could make me stronger. Or, if mishandled, could crush me. And I learned that setting my sights too high, too soon would only leave me feeling defeated.
It’s so important to learn this because life in general–and creativity in particular–require that we face resistance and pain with fortitude. These are signs that we’re reaching the limits of what we can do. And by pushing against those, we get a little stronger.
When I feel that tug away from my desk at the start of each new scene, I welcome it. Like the weights that are a little bit heavier than my normal routine or the burn that shows me I’m at the edge of my strength. It means I’m diving into uncharted waters, and I’m about to find out just how far I can push myself.