Two days ago I completed Part 2 of my first Writer to Author workshop. The first part centered around what a writer needs to get started on a manuscript and a few potholes to watch out for. We discussed all the pieces that need to be in place to bring a manuscript from a .doc to a bound book. In Part 2, we took it further and discussed the multiple ways in which to market the book, then followed up by how to care for the artist. There was a woman who had written four books, each in a different genre. Her husband had written a YA novel. One participant had written and published three books all on the history of the Seattle area. Another was in the writing stage of her first book. And someone else asked about how to approach the craft of writing, where writers get their ideas from and how to finish a project. It is no small thing to write a manuscript. The obstacles that creep up or drop in front of us can be tiny or monumental. To actually get the words in a format for others to enjoy takes perseverance, courage, patience, and a healthy dose of luck.
In previous posts where I discuss where inspiration can come from, Heather Sellers, in her book Page After Page, adds, “The quality, pattern, and relative ease of your childhood-how much you have suffered, how old you are, how world-weary, world-traveled, world-wise-matter very little. You don’t have to suffer in some world-class fashion. You simply need to notice how suffering works. The bad childhood person may have a more acute sense of how people interact, because to cope, she had to watch, very carefully, for subtle signs that showed when the next emotional hurricane was blowing in. That can be helpful to a writer, the ability to pay close attention to the unseen movements and emotions in the human drama.” And that is an excellent way to describe so much. Not only how everyone, should we decide to delve into a creative life, can entertain our Muse, but it explains that not everyone needs to have experience with addiction, lose a parent, deal with mental illness, or live in poverty to write about it. All this and more is part of the human drama. We’ve all touched parts and degrees of these areas, and more, personally or through others in our lives.
However, Sellers cautions, “Suffering doesn’t matter. Awareness and insight about people matters. It doesn’t matter what path you take to get to the place of awareness . . . Your awareness of your personal myths, the fantasies you present about your past, your awareness of your weak points-that’s what is important . . . Pondering your relative degree of suffering is a dead-end. It’s a way of letting yourself down, by comparing your worth to other people’s history. None of that matters. What matters is the ability to create a writing practice you return to every day.” And that, my friends, is the crux of this entire investigation into embracing the writing life. Regardless of whatever we’ve been through, if we don’t return to the practice of creating then we shut the door on an unexplored piece of life.
Let’s say that you’ve followed through on your commitment to embrace a creator’s life, you’ve completed a project and found the courage to share a piece of yourself, previously hidden, with the world. There will be someone who, perhaps a frustrated artist themselves, that may say something less than positive about your efforts. “The jerk who questions your right to even write is all too common . . . [They show up] In all kinds of different guises. Why is he so potent? Because he is the embodiment of your own worst fear. That you don’t deserve to do this. So prove the devil otherwise . . . And if you are worried that the cruel words of [another famous writer] could wound, permanently, the writer within, then you must write a glorious f***-you letter to that wounding person. Prove him wrong by writing every single day for the rest of your life. Become more famous, not less.”
After we pick ourselves up and dry our tears, then we get back to our practice. “To the place where you would rather do it than not do it, because skipping a writing session is like skipping a workout. It’s harder to start back up . . . Sometimes, it’s too hard to start back up. It’s easier to keep not doing it.” And I suppose, if we looked at the heart of it all, it’s a practice because we get the opportunity every day to return to it. Or not. But if we choose not to, there better be a reason beyond words given to us in comparison, anger, or resentment. If we decide to walk away from this life, let it not be because a critic’s wound was fatal. I love Sellers’s advice, ‘prove him wrong by writing every single day’.
Sometimes, we stray from our art for other reasons. Life excels at tossing obstacles in our path just to see how serious we are about this thing called creativity. And sometimes the obstacles are ones we create ourselves. “See if you can catch yourself going right into a little loop. It might take some practice. Getting to know how your writing mind works is absolutely essential if you want to write regularly, regularly enough to publish books or articles or finish a story.” These ‘loops’ that we create tell us how picking up the dry cleaning or scrubbing the toilet is more important than ‘butt in chair’ time. It takes awareness to notice when we begin the loop, what the loop repeats to us, and then to devise a way to step out of that loop and break the pattern.
Here is an exercise that Sellers suggests to get to know what goes on between our ears. “Write down on an index card six to twelve words or so that anchor one of your writing ideas. COMING OF AGE NOVEL, BLOSSOM, GRAVE, SET IN FLORIDA, GIRLS, COLLECTION OF ESSAYS ABOUT THE 80’s. Whatever comes to mind . . . Now read your card, and be ready to really think and feel. When you read your card . . . pay attention: Do you seize up? Does your mind go blank? After the rush of the first idea what do you think and feel?” In yoga, we are invited to pay attention to our thoughts. When we have them, what they are, and then we practice letting go of them. I may have the thought that the plants need watering when I look at where I left off in my current WIP. My loop begins. I notice, then I break the pattern. I keep my ‘butt in chair’ and I write.
“I don’t know what gets played over and over on your little loop. I do know that most people-writers and nonactive wanna-be writers-have ideas. Then they stop. They stop really early. They may let themselves continue by buying a book on writing, taking a class, daily journaling, making notes, starting, maybe, the project. But they don’t finish. And they don’t know why. Part of being a writer is paying extraordinarily close attention to what is on your mind.” We learn to pay attention not only for the ideas of what to create, but also for the thoughts that inhibit our creating.
Sometimes we stop with an idea because that’s all there is, or that’s all there is for now. “When you are truly a blocked writer, you have dedicated your life, your time, your space, your heart and mind to writing. You have studied writing, and you read constantly. You go to live readings, you live the writing life. And you can’t write-physically, you are never able to get to the computer, the studio, the paper. That’s a block. The energy that you would be putting into writing is there-you have that energy-but you can’t direct it to the page. There’s a block . . . When you are afraid of writing, it’s quite different from being blocked. When you are afraid, you really want to write, but you won’t let yourself write. You don’t have the energy for it. You are afraid of opening a vein, you are afraid of hurting someone or yourself, you are afraid you will suck and you are afraid you won’t really suck, and that you will have to change your life in order to accommodate this new thing, the writing life. You are afraid of the changes you will have to make in your life. You don’t write.” I think it’s important to distinguish between the two: not writing because we physically can’t get ‘butt in chair’, and not writing because of fear. How do we know the difference? We pay attention to our mind and the thoughts it churns out.
“You can manage your block: 1) Don’t cling to what you have written. Stay light. Start new books and write through to the end. Look forward by staying right where you are today. Don’t look back. 2) If you are blocked, you might make terrible choices. Don’t sign up for things that will cause you to be too far from the (great) person you are. 3) Construct your life so that you stay unblocked. Don’t wait for a block . . . to learn how to remain unblocked.” Stay unblocked? Yep. Notice the loop, the thoughts, the fear. Develop strategies to move over, around, under, or though the obstacles that keep us from creating, from getting to know ourselves, and from sharing those expressions with others.
If you do this, create a practice for doing your art and have safeguards in place for when derailment looms, then you have moved into embracing the writing life. What can you do when have the practice and scramble beyond roadblocks? Limitless art. View my efforts at www.myoyenterprises.com Have a way to help artists get to know their thoughts, develop a deep enough practice that blocks are rare and temporary? Share them in the comments!