For a few posts now I’ve been exploring the writer’s inner life. Today this series of posts becomes all the more important to me: my kids have returned to school, so I am able to write full time.
So, daily, I need to write.
We’re all fighting inner demons
And to write I have to defeat certain invisible opponents who would stand in my way.
- Steven Pressfield personifies them as “Resistance.”
- The Desert Fathers and Mothers called them “Demons.”
- A purely secular psychology might call them addictions, neuroses, personality disorders.
The inner battles are against habits and forces. They set up roadblocks and distractions to keep me from getting the work done.
Secular or religious, when you encounter them these forces seem pretty personal. Who would blame even a purely agnostic addict in recovery from saying he was “fighting inner demons”?
Antony: The Father of the Desert Fathers
I greatly admire the “father” of the Desert Fathers, Antony the Great, who sought the hermit’s life before the Egyptian desert before it was filled with monks.
When his parents died, he first set himself up as an urban hermit.
He wasn’t trying to write. He was trying to follow Christ in the way of salvation. (The two goals can, of course, go together.)
To grow he had to win his inner battles. He had to wrestle with his demons.
Now here’s the great thing: These demons of Antony’s were not like what a lot of today’s Christians think of on the topic of spiritual warfare. You know: a kind of personification of the evils of a secular world.
Antony didn’t turn an defensive, condemning eye on the culture around him.
Antony’s demons were more like those of C.S. Lewis in the famous Screwtape Letters. Lewis writes in the voice of a senior devil mentoring a trainee in the fine art of temptation.
Screwtape’s focus is not secular forces or even the usual vices. It is anything that will work to turn the Christian’s attention from faithfully following Christ.
Tempting thoughts, personified
Actually Antony’s demons look suspiciously like the personification of ordinary distractions:
First he attempted to lead him away from the discipline, suggesting memories of his possessions, the guardianship of his sister, the bonds of kinship, love of money and of glory, the manifold pleasure of food, the relaxations of life, and finally the rigor of virtue, and how great the labor is that earns it…
If you’ve tried to write, or do any other creative project you must know those voices.
There are the voices of wealth and possessions:
Before you took up this crazy dream you could earn money and buy stuff! Wouldn’t this go better with a newer laptop? Maybe get a real job so you can get what you need.
There are the voices of responsibility, like Antony’s need to provide for his little sister:
Shouldn’t you find a more reliable way of providing for your family? These people need you. Aren’t you being kind of selfish giving your time to this project?
And of course the voices of pleasure:
Wouldn’t a latte be good right about now? And a scone along with it? Or maybe a nap.
The modern writer’s demons also include the voice of fame and glory, just as Antony did:
Shouldn’t you do something to get your name out there? I mean when your book is done you’ll need to be connected with readers. Maybe set up some Tweets for the week. Maybe you should spend an hour on Facebook. Gotta build up those numbers.
And the voices of work and rest make a heady mix:
This is just too hard. You’ll never get done with this project. You need a rest. No no, you deserve a rest. Better still, just give up and do something easier for a living.
When none of this succeeded, Antony found the demons using sexuality to sway his devotion:
And the beleaguered devil undertook one night to assume the form of a woman and to imitate her every gesture, solely in order that he might beguile Antony.
Notice that anything can be used to distract you from your goal. It doesn’t have to be something inherently bad.
The demon comes in person as the wrong good thing.
The way Antony dealt with all this is interesting and useful, and I hope to return to the topic. For now, though, I’ll just share two useful pieces of his method that I think are good for any writer:
1. He kept a discipline. The devil’s purpose was
to lead him away from the discipline
but Antony kept at it.
No matter the barrage of invisible critiques, he kept his rhythm of prayer and work. That was what was attacked. Antony had chosen a sound discipline out of faith, and he stayed on task.
2. He kept a perspective. Though it is easy to think it was Antony’s own strength that mattered, his biographer credited Jesus, quoting Scripture,
It is not I, but the grace of God which is in me.
Or as Antony himself said to the devil,
You, then, are much to be despised, for you are black of mind, and like a powerless child. From now on you shall cause me no anxiety, for the Lord is my helper…”
So I’m keeping at it. I’m coming back, again and again, to my chosen discipline. And I’m trusting Christ to bring me all the way to victory.
Ever have to battle inner demons? I’d love to hear about it in the comments…
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gary panetta says
I’ve had to battle inner demons ever since leaving my job, going to seminary, and being in ministry.
I’m a risk-averse person, so none of this comes naturally to me.
Nevertheless, nothing worthwhile in regard to creativity or ministry comes without risk.
Gary Neal Hansen says
Thanks, Gary. If risk aversion is your demon I think you’ve had some serious victories!
Good “writer’s life” comments, Gary. Yes. We all have them (distractions, excuses not to write, etc.), don’t we? Your reflections on some of the “saints” like Antony, and C.S. Lewis, and that they too fought the “demons” that distract us– not sure that helps me– but it does assure me that all writers have to “fight the demons” that seem to pull us away from the PC screen, the keyboard. and that pull my mind away from focusing on where I want to go! …and there IS a positive side too, isn’t there? IF what I am doing is a “God-thing”– I trust that my thoughts, reflections, and a little wisdom will get expressed with a few worthwhile words strung together in some meaningful way! …like your’s. Thanks! –Rich
Gary Neal Hansen says
Thanks Rich! I really appreciate your affirmation on this. Hope your writing is going well…