When I started writing, I jumped in with both feet. It wasn’t until after I had completed my first manuscript that I thought to take a creative writing class at the local community college. As part of my ‘education’, I decided that I should have a collection of books on the craft of writing. To this day, I think I’ve read through 6 of the almost 20 books I’ve added to my shelf. Despite the array of suggestions and encouragement for beginning and living a writer’s life held within those pages, I’ve continued to scribble out manuscripts and poems. Perhaps the adage of ‘ignorance is bliss’ has meaning in my case. However, at times where there is a lull in my creativity (read: life interferes with creative time/ability), I turn to one of those volumes and peek inside at the wisdom of someone who walks a similar path. Heather Sellers, author of Page After Page, is the current tome of thoughts on writing.
As I’ve written about before in this blog, when we come up against something that is tough or dark or hard, resistance comes to life. Not the natural hurdles of plot or character trouble, but the kind that arises and begins to question whether or no we’re doing the right thing. And as soon as a sliver of doubt wedges its way in, then resistance has the run of the place. “Resistance is a way of shutting down fear. Fear is unpleasant. We avoid it-that makes sense. . . .Resistance is a powerful, pervasive, energy-blocking force.” Doubt is fear’s faithful companion. Where one is, the other is not far away. It doesn’t matter which one shows up first, because once resistance walks in, we suddenly find we have to clean the house, get the car fixed, pull weeds, or organize our junk drawer(s). If we’re doing something ‘right’ then we don’t have to worry about doing something ‘wrong’, which resistance will certainly attempt to convince us is the case. So, maybe we pull the weeds and organize the drawers, and while we give our creativity a break, we also find a way to move through, around, or over the fear/doubt/resistance. Because, in the end, our Muse is much more powerful, that pull to create is too strong, to be beaten by the spoiled, mischievous ego.
Discovering that putting all those energy-blocking devices back into the closet from whence the skulked, gives us the space to pay attention. Sellers writes, “What you do as you embark on a writing life, on day two of your new life, and for the whole rest of it is this: You learn to listen.” There are innumerable ways to listen, and nearly as many sources. We can surround ourselves with those that have gone before and left us words, images, phrases, and descriptions to follow. Their pages speak to us, if we listen. The conversations of friends, family, and strangers, even the covey of quail that hurries across the driveway every morning, can tell us something about them, or about ourselves, if we listen. A cousin of mine has decided to embark on the writing life as well. Science fiction is his love, and we always begin with what we know. He asked me how I get my ideas. Not an uncommon question for someone to ask one who lives a creative life. I explained the whole ‘movie screen’ thing, then he shook his head. “The universe doesn’t talk to me the way it does to you. That’s not how I get my ideas.” I smile. Because I have been ‘listening’ for so long, I know that what he described is just a different version of my screen. The important thing is that he does listen when the stories come. The Muse speaks to each of us in a way that, if we give it a chance, we’ll ‘hear’ what it has to say. If we like it, we write it, paint it, draw it, cook it, sculpt it, mold it, play it. If we don’t, then the Muse finds another way, but we have to be willing to hear.
“There are three essential reasons why you have to shut up about your writing. If you talk about your writing life, you are siphoning off valuable needed energy that must be fed right into the page. . . . Second, if talk about it, you aren’t doing it. Third, as a writing beginner, you have one main goal: to increase your confidence in yourself as a writer.” Heather compiled this book as she remembered the classes she offered, and their participants. For someone who is beginning the writing life, there is a reason to keep it a secret. For one, there are those who will scoff at the idea of us wanting to write a book (or short story or poem or screenplay). Skeptical words when just the thought of gathering the courage needed to answer the call and pick up the pen, the paintbrush, the camera, the chisel, can crush the infantile creativity before it truly has a chance to breathe its first breath. I think that a little play on an afternoon we have to ourselves, or an hour at the park, or a week’s worth of early morning journaling/sketching/dancing is what our creativity needs to build trust in us that we’ll protect it. We take that spark of energy, that softly whispered idea, and we try it out. Just between our little project and ourselves, we begin a love affair. We get used to that energy, maybe we even begin to crave it. Once we’re comfortable with our medium, we might share it with a very trusted friend, someone who will be kind and gentle with our attempts. And from there, our courage grows until we understand the importance of sharing our gift with others. So, the first and third are linked. The second is what happens if we neglect to do a little protecting of our art first. That doubt/fear/resistance rises and snuffs out the whisper before we’re able to hear the whole story. Why do we talk about things and not do them? Because we’re afraid. Do we talk for hours about taking out the trash? Do we share every detail of the zillion emails that fill our inboxes each day? Do we spend time discussing the kaleidoscope of colors in the suds as we wash dishes? Not usually, because those activities generally don’t raise feelings of doubt. We do them, then we move on. If we talk about writing/painting/cooking/dancing, we’re voicing fear, or perhaps excitement, and we leave ourselves open for something that tells us we’re fools for listening to that whisper, because it makes it easier to not move out of our comfort zone and follow the call.
To begin the creative life, one must listen. Then, if we have a bit of courage and the ability to play, we keep our projects to ourselves for a while. With an increase in trust that our Muse will feed us delicious ideas, and we in turn protect the physical manifestation of those ideas, we begin down the path of creativity. How do you listen? What do you do when resistance takes hold? Have you remained quiet regarding your projects, or have you gathered your courage and tip-toed to a close, gentle friend? I’d love to read your ideas, so leave a comment! If you’d like to peek at my projects, visit www.myjoyenterprises.com