Category: Process

The Big Stupid Smile

photo by Rhett Maxwell
photo by Rhett Maxwell

It’s interesting to note how people react to the idea of me writing a novel.

I don’t talk about my writing unless someone asks, and then, my answer is often colored by what I think that person wants to hear.

If the individual is a friend who’s a writer, reader, or an artist of any kind (which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a professional artist, but have a love for creativity), I willingly talk, share, and listen for hours. And when this friend and I part, I inevitably feel changed – deepened – by my friend’s personal pursuit for a meaningful existence.

I also have acquaintances who almost always begin a conversation with, “How’s the book coming?” I think they mean well, but I’m learning that those folks are really just using the topic of the book as a conversation opener, much like talking about that day’s weather or how bad construction is on Pima Road. The novel is what I’m identified with, which, as long as I restrict my answer to something like, “Good,” or “Fine,” is kind of nice.

Then, there’s the person who’s a Challenger.

I met one of my Challengers the other day as I walked the dogs. She’s a woman I’ve known for a few years. When I’d last seen her during the holidays, I’d mentioned that I’d finished the first draft of the novel.

“How’s the book coming?” she now asked as I stood there with the dogs.

“Fine,” I replied. “I’m now moving forward, inch by inch, on revisions.”

She looked at me with a stupefied expression on her face. She was almost angry.

“What do you mean? Wasn’t the first time good enough?

There was a time, not so long ago, when her remark would have cut through to the bone. Anxiety would have tightened its steely grip around my heart. I would have felt extremely guilty for not having achieved more, and for not having done it perfectly the first time around.

Instead, what I experienced was a deep sense of joy within myself. I began to smile, and I couldn’t stop. It was a smile so big and so stupid that I fought the urge to jump up and down and point it out to her.

I tried to explain my process by creating an analogy to painting, where the first draft is a sketch, and revisions are where things like color, texture, and emotion are added. It is, I said, all about depth of story.

I don’t think she understood a single thing I said, but that’s okay. It’s not my job to convert her, or teach her, or persuade her to think in any other way. Right now, my job is to go deeper within myself and take all the time I need, to tell my story the best way I know how, without forgetting to take joy from every minute of creating.

Each day, I live more and more for the big, stupid smile.

Making The Right Choice

I recently watched Jon Stewart’s interview with Oscar Isaac, the star of Inside Llweyn Davis.

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Stewart asked Isaac what it is that makes up the genius of the Coen Brothers, and I loved his answer:

“Their instincts always take them to the choice with the most history in it.”

Take the choice with the most history in it. This could be a mantra for writing. If you focused on the writing of each sentence, each paragraph, with this in mind, you’d be well on your way to writing a compelling story of great depth and detail.

The Gravity of Resistance

The wheels came off my writing last week. Simple as that.

I’d been making good progress on my manuscript. I’d been working every day, letting the story flow through me, not looking back. And – miracle of miracles – I’d avoided falling into the trap of reviewing what I wrote (and thus, wanting to revise). I was successful in pushing myself forward, just putting down on paper whatever came to mind.

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But then I stopped.

There’d been no emergencies, no hiccups in the daily routine, no emotional upheavals.

I just stopped.

At that moment, I recognized it for what it was: Resistance.

But while I looked Resistance in the face and acknowledged it, I did little to stop it. I basically let Resistance barge its way in, like a relative who arrives to spend one night and ends up taking ownership of the house.

How many times have I read about Resistance in Steven Pressfield’s wonderful book, The War of Art?

How much do I need to study it before conquering the bastard?

Here’s the secret: the bastard will never, ever, go away. One can only defeat Resistance on a day-by-day basis.

As is sometimes the case with Mr. Pressfield’s teachings, I somehow needed to hear that come out of his mouth rather than read it in print.

Mr. P. was the guest on last Sunday’s “Super Soul Sunday” program on OWN, Oprah Winfrey’s TV network. She and Mr. P. sat in the shade of a pepper tree on her farm in Maui, where they talked about several concepts from The War of Art.

I would have appreciated the interview more if Oprah hadn’t interrupted Mr. P. so often (a trait that niggles my annoyance button), but we still got a few of his powerful, practical nuggets of wisdom for breaking through Resistance.

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Resistance is the gravity that presses down on us, keeping us from reaching our higher, more noble self. Think of Resistance as a wall that has been constructed to block your way each time you try to rise up out of yourself to achieve a new level of creativity.

Resistance is strengthened by the molecules of Ego. Remove Ego from the equation and that wall called Resistance becomes much more porous and easy to slip through.

The interview is worth watching in its entirety; you’ll find it here.

I wish that Steven Pressfield had his own television show. There is too much “inspiration-driven” content out there that dissolves into the ether the moment a program ends. Mr. P. is a natural teacher and is a breath of fresh air, with practical, no-nonsense, “get your ass in the chair and do it” advice. It’s the wisdom that most of us need to help us get out of our own way and make a difference in this brief lifetime.

My novel is waiting.  Time for me to tell my Ego to take a hike and say hello to my higher, Nobler Self.

Today, I will beat Resistance. Today, I will be a Professional.

Today, I will write.

The Weight Of Fear

climb-that-like-a-tree-tank.american-apparel-unisex-tank.athletic-grey.w760h760I surround myself with sayings painted on paper and canvas, reminding me to be brave, take chances, embrace new possibilities, screw what others think.

I meditate, exercise, live in the moment. I keep a post-it note stuck to my bedside lamp, reminding me to make good art.

I run with the wolves, journey along the road less traveled, and never, ever, let anyone move my cheese.

But I live with fear.

Not the run-like-the-wind-before-the-grizzly-claws-your-right-ass-cheek-into-hamburger kind of fear, but a fear that would make anyone from a third-world country desperately want to smack the living shit out of me.

It’s the spoiled-rotten, narcissistic type of fear.

Fear of creating something that is redundant.

Fear of imperfection.

Fear of getting messy.

Fear of things that might happen five years from now if my work gets published.

I even allow good things to send me into a spiral of dread. The offer from a noted writer and professor, who’s offered to line-edit my work. Interest from a highly respected (and successful) book agent.

Just a wee bit of insanity, that.

But I’m learning. I don’t get paralyzed by it as often as I used to.

I’m working on not using food to stuff my creative energy back down my throat. I can step on the bathroom scale after a period of “dread eating” and say “So, this is how much fear weighs.” And I’ve decided that carrying the burden of excess poundage is much harder work than writing five hundred words.

When I’ve desperately wanted to lie down and take a three-hour nap, I’ve made bargains with myself to write just one sentence. That’s all, no more. And it’s funny how the second, and third, and fourth sentences are usually waiting right behind the first.

That fear is ridiculous goes without saying, but it’s real nonetheless.  I’m thinking that you might have some fear in your life, too.

What is your fear? How much does it weigh? What tools do you use that help?

For now, I’ll keep forging head with my newest mantra: Lighten Up, Francis.