On the Creative Self-Publishing Podcast, ALLi Director Orna Ross and News and Podcast Producer Howard Lovy discuss the seven signs of publishing resistance and block. As you plan your creative expansion and set about putting your plans into action, you will meet resistance. This is inevitable, part of the process, and not a personal weakness or a sign that you should give up. Orna breaks down how to identify the different forms of resistance.
The Creative Self-Publishing podcast stream is sponsored by Orna Ross’s guidebook: Creative Self-Publishing. You can purchase the book at selfpublishingAdvice.org/creative. ALLI members receive the ebook edition, and all ALLi guidebooks, free.
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About the Hosts
Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratizing, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than thirty-five years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
Read the Transcripts: The Seven Signs of Publishing Resistance
Howard Lovy: Hello, Orna, how are you?
Orna Ross: Hi Howard, and hello everyone. Great to be back here talking about creative self-publishing.
What is creative block?
Howard Lovy: Wonderful. Well, we're going to talk about something that everybody experiences, but we don't like to talk about it, and that's when we're all blocked up, and you can tell us what kind of block we're talking about, it's a little bit different from writer's block.
Orna Ross: Yes. So, as you so rightly say, resistance and block are very common. Creative resistance, creative block, they go with the territory.
They're not just common problems, as they're sometimes perceived, they're actually a hundred percent part of doing a creative act. So, creativity by definition is changing something, creating something new, producing something that wasn't there before, and in order to do that, it would already be there if there wasn't some kind of resistance block in the middle. So, the whole job really of getting something done and creating something new is about engaging with that resistance, and pulling it in, working with it, and in so doing, getting to wherever you want to go.
And this dynamic comes up, it's not just something that writers experience, but writing and publishing bring it very much to the forefront. But actually, in life, in anything, this dynamic is constantly there, and we don't always recognize it for what it is, and there's an awful lot of misunderstanding around it.
So, today I wanted to talk particularly about publishing block.
So, we recognize writer's block, I think, as writers. We may not always know what to do about it, and we may not always recognize it for what it is, but with publishing block, a lot of people don't recognize it at all, don't even know that there is such a thing. So, that's what I'd like to particularly focus on in this session today.
Howard Lovy: Okay, and one thing that you describe in your Creative Self-Publishing Book is how to use it and not treat it like your enemy.
Orna Ross: Yeah, very much so. There is a whole sector, almost, certainly a micro niche of publishing, devoted to this arena, because obviously it's a painful problem, and I think, that's the thing I'd like to say about it at the start; it doesn't feel good when you are in conflict with it.
So, a lot of people, when they have something they want to do, they say they're going to do it. This is what I want. I want to publish a book. Okay, fine, and here are the tasks that I have to do and for some reason, and we'll talk about the different ways it manifests in a minute, but for some reason, I'm not doing it.
Very often the solution that's given to people is discipline, seat of the pants to the seat of the chair, just get on with it, kind of thing, and I mentioned in my book, the book, The War of Art, which in so many ways is a fantastic book, but I just have a different sort of way of going at it.
So, Stephen Pressfield, in his book, he calls out resistance as the enemy, essentially. Resistance's goal is not to wound you or disable you, he says, resistance's goal is to kill you, and its target is the epicentre of our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give and no one else has but us.
And when we fight it, we're in a war to the death. I'm paraphrasing from his book here, and he reiterates this again in his other book, Turning Pro, and he talks a lot about the shadow self, and so on. It doesn't care about you. It doesn't love you. It has its own agenda. It'll kill you. It'll kill you like cancer, and so on.
So, it's set up here as a battle, and if you don't win, resistance is going to win. This is a very common way of looking at it and I think it's helpful for some people to look at it in this way. That kind of fires them up and off they go, and they go into the war, and they beat resistance and all as well.
But that just does not work for me at all, and I think it doesn't work for a lot of people. So, my way is very different.
I have actually had cancer and when I did, again, you meet this battle metaphor everywhere, you're supposed to fight the disease, and Western medicine pulls out its big guns and it's presented as this battle. This never made sense to me at all and, for me, working with the creative process is very much about acceptance and a two-way dynamic with you. And when resistance rises, it's got something to share with you. Similarly, with cancer, that was the way I treated it, and that was what worked for me.
So, asking questions like, why is this here? What is it saying that I need to know? And working with it and not against it.
The Irish poet, Mary O'Malley, she has a great line, what's in the way is the way. So, recognizing the resistance, recognizing that it's there for a reason, and instead of trying to cut it away, listening to what it's trying to tell you.
What are the seven manifestations of creative resistance?
Howard Lovy: So, let's define what we're talking about first. You mentioned that there are seven manifestations for self-publishing authors of forms of writing and publishing resistance. Can we go over those?
Orna Ross: Yeah. So, as I said, if you know you're blocked or in resistance, or the resistance is rising for you, that's well and good.
But it is actually possible to be in deep resistance or deeply blocked and not even know it.
So yeah, there are seven kinds of different ways in which you can see it in yourself, in your actions. So, this is when it's a kind of a subconscious thing for some people.
So firstly, there are what I call the don't knows. So, if you're a don't know, it's literally, you don't what to write. You want to write, but you don't quite know what to write, or you're trying a bit here and there, but you don't know what to write, or you don't know what to publish, because we're talking about publishing block here.
So, you literally don't know where to start. You're possibly spending a lot of time looking at other author successes, but you're unable to get moving yourself.
So, as I said, it can happen either with writing, you don't know what to write, or if you have the book written, you have your manuscript, but you don't know how to set about publishing it, and you're not getting anywhere with that.
So, you're listening to advice and stuff, but you still haven't got a clue. So, that is a form of block.
Then you have the next step up from that, which is, I call it the ‘can't get going'. In this case, you do know what you want to do. You may even know your ideal reader, and you know your own personal definition of success, things that we've talked about here on the show before. You might have identified your micro niche and everything that you need to get going, but you can't actually, you're doing bits and pieces here and there, but you're not actually making progress. Again, possibly looking at other people in your genre or your categories and wondering, how do they do it? How could you ever have the energy that they seem to have or the ingenuity that they seem to have? How could you dare to think, almost, that you could do what they do? There's like a gap between what they're doing and where you feel and find yourself and it just swallows all your hopes up. You feel self-conscious and maybe inadequate and maybe even unworthy.
Howard Lovy: Is that related to, I hear this phrase going on a lot called ‘imposter syndrome'. Is that related?
Orna Ross: Yeah, imposter syndrome is a little bit further on, when you actually have done stuff, but you feel, oh my god, someone's going to find me out, that was a fluke. So, that's a slightly different thing again. Imposter syndrome is not block, it's more self-esteem around your achievements, and I think imposter syndrome is usually dealt with by just staying there and doing it until such a time as you realize, okay, this is who I am now.
So, imposter syndrome is very often felt by a newly successful, you've published a book, or you've sold a lot of books, or you've just got a big contract from somebody, and you feel, gosh, they're going to find out it's only little me.
Howard Lovy: So, the ‘can't get going' is more of a paralysis before you can even…
Orna Ross: Exactly. It's more extreme, but you're absolutely right in that it comes from the same place, but it's so extreme that it has cut things off right at the root.
Howard Lovy: Right. So, the next phase up from that is what you call the ‘fizzled outs'.
Orna Ross: Yeah, the ‘fizzled outs' have had a success or two. It wasn't mind blowing, but certainly was good, and you learned a lot, and you're ready for the next one. Except the next one just isn't happening.
We see this a lot with authors, it's called the second book syndrome. So, first book went out, went well-ish, and now it's definitely time to get the second one out, but for whatever reason, they can't either finish the writing or can't finish the publishing.
I think this is because very often, now you know what it takes, and you know it's not that easy. That first book, when you're working on it, there can be this kind of sense of, when the first book comes out, everything is going to be brilliant and solved and I'll be there, I'll be a published author and it's going to be amazing. Then you find, you bring your book out and actually, yes, it is wonderful, and it is great, but there's kind of the deafening sound of people not really caring all that much, and there's a lot more work if it's going to, and everybody's saying to you, well, one book isn't enough, you have to do the next one.
So, that pressure, if you like, can leave you completely, again, in resistance or in block.
You could also be obsessing about feeling cringey about the work that you have put out, obsessing about the bits that aren't as good as you would like them to be, or you got some bad reviews and you weren't happy with that, or the conditions have changed, and what worked for that book is not going to work for the next book, or you want to change your category. There are loads of things that can happen here, but essentially, you've done reasonably well, but now you're stuck.
Howard Lovy: Right, and related is the next category which you call the ‘stops and starts'.
Orna Ross: Yeah. So, this is the same kind of syndrome going on exactly, but it's for somebody who's a bit further along with their business, and it's become a pattern of fertile periods and then very long stretches where nothing happens. So, it's completely natural to have ebbs and flows and to have downtime, that is not just natural it's essential for a creative, and that natural rhythm of work, rest, play is all great again, as we have discussed often here on the show.
But this is a dry spell and you're not experiencing it as replenishment to get into good shape to go again, you're actually experiencing it as exhaustion or sloth, you know, procrastination. It just doesn't feel good. It can feel very flat, is another kind of feeling that might accompany it.
You might be working, but you're not working well. You've got a lot of unfinished work, half-finished work. You could be spending a lot of time on the wrong work or on distractions, or you could be working, in fact, very hard, you might even be overworking, but when measured in terms of production, things aren't coming through.
I got stuck here in a period a few years ago, where I was there, I was doing a lot, but when I actually stopped and looked at one point, I realized that I wasn't in a good flow, and the key again is always how you feel about it. Resistance doesn't feel good.
Howard Lovy: Yeah, you can spend a lot of time going through your notes and sharpening your pencil without actually doing any work.
Orna Ross: Exactly, and that's fine if it's a little while, because it can be just mulling, but if it's going on and on, and you're seeing this pattern of, I produce a bit and then I've got a very long spell of not producing at all, then I produce another little bit, then that's the stop start kind of rhythm.
Howard Lovy: Now, how do you distinguish that from your next category, which is the ‘underdeveloped’s'.
Orna Ross: Yeah, the ‘underdeveloped’s' are driving themselves often, working, again, extremely hard. So, I think it's important to recognize, sometimes we think of resistance as just not doing anything, but actually resistance can be very high and correlate with overwork, and that's another way in which it can be difficult to see sometimes.
So, you often see that with the underdeveloped’s. So, they are producing, maybe overproducing even, but there's a disjunction between the original vision that they had and what actually comes out. So, they're not going deep, they're not opening up and they're not getting any of the benefit of actually producing the work, because the whole thing about creative publishing, creative writing, is that it calls on you to go in at depth and to open up.
So, sometimes it's the skill thing. It's just they've learn as much as they're prepared to learn and just not going to bother trying to go deeper. Sometimes it can be short-cutting, copying others. I don't mean plagiarism, but just, doing the easy things. Second guessing the market. Market pleasing, people pleasing, whatever it is, it's not giving you creative joy. It's not giving you creative payoff. It's not giving you the feeling that you get when you have actually given yourself over to creative work, and that's how you know it's a form of resistance and block.
Howard Lovy: Yeah, there can be a disconnect between your original eureka moment and idea, and what you actually have down, and that can be frustrating.
Orna Ross: Yeah, and again, I think it's important to say that there's always some level of disconnect; what we end up producing is never as “good” as the original vision, because that was perfect and exciting and fired us off.
So, there's always a gap, but when this gap is actually leaving you feeling just caught in this thing of pushing out stuff, pushing out work, and feeling a bit queasy about it, but not going there, just putting out the next thing, and maybe falling sales, and maybe poor feedback, maybe reviews aren't what you would like them to be, that sort of a mix, there's a resistance in there and generally it's a resistance to deepening and developing.
Howard Lovy: Well, your next category is something that I can relate with, it's called the ‘shadow career', where you spend a lot of time in a job that's related to writing and publishing, but not really actually writing and publishing, which is what I do.
Orna Ross: Yeah. Well, this was interesting in terms of your kind of eureka and your change that we discussed last time out, but this is a really common thing in our sector. And of course, it's very understandable, because when we start off writing a book takes a long time, publishing a book takes a long time, and we have acquired certain writing and publishing skills along the way.
So, we do something that is very closely related to what we want to be doing, our own writing and publishing, and it might be teaching, or it might be freelance writing, it could be editing, it could be a desk job in a publishing house.
There are loads of things, it pays the bills maybe, or it gives you validation, or whatever it might do, but it's interfering with your writing and publishing.
So, I want to stress, there's nothing wrong with having a day job, a desk job, freelance writing, editing, teaching, any of those things, running ALLi. These are all jobs that you can run along with your own publishing and writing, and that's great if it feels good. But if you are feeling dissatisfied, frustrated with your days, you'll know as you're listening to this show, whether you are in a shadow career, or whether you've actually found the perfect thing that fits in nicely with your own writing and publishing.
If you are in that shadow career for a while, fine. If you're in it for years on end, then that's a form of resistance. There's something going on there, some kind of fear that's keeping you from actually going there and doing your writing and publishing. Again, it's about going in there and finding out what that might be.
Howard Lovy: Exactly, and sort of related is the last category, which is the ‘overloaders'. Meaning you've taken on too many commitments to really focus on what's important.
Orna Ross: Yes, and again, I can relate to this one very well. I think the stop starters often have this in there, and all of them actually can be disguised by overloading.
So, overloading is just what it sounds like; you've taken on too many commitments or followed too many ideas down the track. You are overwhelmed by incoming demands. You're bouncing around all these different opportunities, and it's so easy to do this now because there are so many opportunities for authors. You've got loads of options, and then you've possibly got other obligations, and essentially, you're heading for burnout.
You may be finding that all that activity isn't adding up to whatever you thought you were going to get from it, and you're finding it difficult to decide which is the most important thing. You might find yourself missing deadlines and letting other people down. You're certainly feeling stressed and a kind of have a nagging feeling of anxiety, but you haven't got time to look at that because you know you've got the next thing that you need to do and then, ooh, look at this that's just popped up on the internet, and it sounds like something really interesting, maybe you should go and do that instead.
So, it's a really easy thing to do and it's a really easy syndrome to find yourself in, and the point that I'm trying to make here is that it's a sophisticated form of resistance. It's stopping you from actually doing what you most want to do, and you maybe haven't even gone there to work out what that is.
How do we overcome creative block and resistance?
Howard Lovy: I think most of us can recognize in ourselves at least one or two or three of these seven signs. So, now that you've thoroughly depressed us and we can identify what's happening, what do you do with that information?
Orna Ross: Yeah. So, because we're limited in terms of time today, we're going to just identify the fact that these are forms of resistance, and you may not have realized that they are.
So, as you're listening, you may be going, oh, that's me.
The main thing that I want to say is that, with writing as well, the very same syndromes persist, and very often either the system or somebody will tell you that, if these things are going on, maybe you shouldn't be writing, maybe you haven't got what it takes to be a successful self-publisher. Or maybe you're a has been, your moment is over, or you've been left behind now by the tech, or all these kinds of things, and I suppose the thing that I want people to take away from today is that that's not what it is; it's just resistance and understanding.
As I was saying at the beginning, coming in and recognizing the resistance, and being with the block and letting it tell you why it's there, what it's trying to say to you, what's underlying it.
So, essentially what underlies resistance always is some form of fear. It can be a fear of failing, it can be a fear of success, or it can just be a fear of the creative process itself, which is what we often call fear of change, and going in there and understanding those fears is essentially what you do about it.
So, again, if people have listened anyway regularly or read the book, you'll know that I highly recommend free writing as a way to have that conversation with yourself. It's a really good way for you to understand what is your underlying fear, which of the types of fear are you actually experiencing?
So, fear of change, for example, you'll often find are the people who find creative types irritating; you don't like talking about your creative work, you think it's a bit big-headed or entitled or delusional to talk in that way.
Very often the busy overloader types who don't take time to go deep, it's a fear of change. You will find that you've been working on books that haven't got anywhere. So, the solution here is about going deep on your passion and process, rather than getting caught in that doubt and distraction circle, which can be really painful.
The second one is fear of failure, which I think is really understandable when you're writing a book, it really puts you out there. Even people who've never written a word understand writer's block. They understand why people get stuck on that, and very often signs of fear of failure is thinking about other people, that they're going to laugh at you or being disappointed. Basically, you start to overanalyse the ideas, and are they good enough? It comes in a lot for the fear of failure.
You can also, with fear of failure, get quite intense physical symptoms, headaches and stomach aches, and things like that, that stop you from working, quite often, and again, allowing yourself to be distracted, or procrastinating until you run out of time, with fear of failure.
Another one is to aim smaller, you want to really do one thing, but actually, I'll do this instead and then I'll do the bigger thing that I really want to do in a while, when I'm better, when I have more experience. All that kind of stuff. That's the fear of failure syndrome.
Then fear of success is what you see when you don't complete the projects. You talk more about what you're going to do than what you actually are doing or have done. Every goal is a stretch goal, is a sign of fear of success.
Lots of projects going on at once, not focusing deeply enough on anyone. The work is never quite good enough to put out there, or you have competing definitions of success, or you're very vague about goals and outcomes. So, you are doing things, but you are actually afraid of really doing well.
So, next time I think we'll look more closely at solving all this. So, I think it's really important, first of all, to see what's there and hopefully it's given people stuff to think about, and then next time we'll look at the actual, yeah, engaging, how do you work with resistance? What does that actually look like?
Howard Lovy: Right, well, I guess it helps to be a narcissist where you're not burdened by things like fear and self-doubt, which is why maybe a lot of successful writers are also notorious narcissists. I don't know if there's a real connection there.
Orna Ross: I think you definitely have to go there and understand your own inner dynamics, and understand what's going on, which definitely involves a bit of naval gazing for sure, but hopefully not full-blown narcissism.
Howard Lovy: I see what you mean by how the war and battle metaphor just doesn't work, because these are all things within yourself that you have to, I guess, conquer. Whether that's something that you have to fight or something you have to understand, and maybe there's a difference.
Orna Ross: Yeah, I think of them as the male and female ways of approaching it, in a way, and just gendering it in that way, obviously, and not meaning that women are necessarily the female experiencing the female way and men are necessarily experiencing the male, but you know, how we define male and female in terms of those engagements.
So, one is very much a listening and the other one is a fighting it down, and in different situations, different things are going to be more appropriate, but I definitely think that we all do better when we engage with our resistance when we actually listen to it, because it's there for a reason.
It knows something you haven't quite let through, and when you get into that conversation, and that's what we'll talk about next time, it's called the finding flow process. There is a process by which you can actually just get in there, and engage in that way and listen, because if you're trying to block it off and push it away, and just get on with it without listening, then it's like any other kind of repression, it's going to bounce back up twice as strong. Fighting with it strengthens it and trenches it.
So yeah, let's have a look at how you might engage with it without doing that.
Howard Lovy: Well, thank you, Orna, for addressing this killer of creativity, whether you call it publishing block, writer's block, creative resistance. Once we learn how to identify it, then we can try to solve it, and that's what we'll focus on in two weeks.
Orna Ross: That's great, looking forward to it. Thanks very much, Howard.
Howard Lovy: Thank you, Orna.