Wide-Open Writing

riverI love writing this blog. I haven’t posted anything in several months, but it’s never far from my mind.

I feel that my responsibility as a blogger is to give my reader some kind of takeaway: a laugh, a different point of view, a helpful insight…something of value. So, as I consider topics to write about, I’m always looking for that takeaway—what is the punchline? What is the lesson? What is different or interesting about this post that makes it worth reading?

Unfortunately, these last few months have been so overwhelming that I haven’t been able to boil the chaos in my head down to anything useful. I’ve been swept along in the current of my life– new job, new home, new relationship status/living arrangement, newly empty nest—and it’s been tough to stay afloat.

When I used the expression, “swept along in the current,” what I actually envisioned was more like falling off my raft on a whitewater rafting excursion: me, totally unfit for whitewater rafting in the first place, bobbing and flailing in a churning, twisting river with rocks all around. Periodically my head breaks the surface and I suck in a big gasping breath and then bam, back under I go. I’m not trying to swim in any particular direction; I’m not even trying to avoid the rocks. I’m just trying to remember which way is up and when I have the opportunity, breathe.

Over these last few months, my creativity feels dead. No writing, no painting…any creative effort I begin seems forced and frustrating.

Today I am feeling particularly overwhelmed. I googled for a lifesaver and found this gem from Pema Chodron:

Take the whole teatime just to drink your tea. I started doing this in airports. Instead of reading, I sit there and look at everything, and appreciate it. Even if you don’t feel appreciation, just look. Feel what you feel; take an interest and be curious. Write less; don’t try to capture it all on paper. Sometimes writing, instead of being a fresh take, is like trying to catch something and nail it down. This capturing blinds us, and there’s no fresh outlook, no wide-open eyes, no curiosity.

Maybe that’s why I’ve been struggling to find something blog-worthy to write—I’m trying so hard to capture something and boil it down that I have no fresh take, no wide-open eyes, no curiosity. No wonder I can’t find anything new to say.

A long time ago I learned a lesson about creating for the sake of creating, without fear of failure or pressure to achieve an expected result.  It was one of the most memorable days of my life. (You can read that post here.) Even so, the lesson seems to have gotten buried and writing this post has reminded me of it.

For writing, for painting, for whatever your creative process– and that includes the life you are creating for yourself–you don’t need to know how it will turn out. You don’t need to fear that it won’t be right.

The nature of creating is venturing into the unknown. True creativity is making something NEW, bringing something into existence that didn’t exist before.  If you’re in a true creative state, you’re not traveling an established path. So how can you possibly know you’re right?  More importantly, how can you be wrong?

See, I spend a LOT of time worrying about screwing things up. Can’t write this blog post; it might turn out stupid. Can’t paint a painting because I don’t have any ideas, or for that matter, painting skills. On a bigger scale, I have life decisions staring me in the face and I’m paralyzed that I will choose the wrong path.

So I started writing today not to achieve a tidy result, but just to feel what I feel, to look around me with wide-open eyes, and to practice creativity for its own sake.  As often happens when I start writing, a shape starts to form and I figure out what I’m writing about after I start writing it. In other words, I found my takeaway. It’s mostly for me, but I know there are others in my shoes who might find this helpful, too.

We create our lives. You are the first to walk your path, and I am the first to walk mine. Therefore, there is no established way: no right way and no wrong way. So we have nothing to be afraid of.  We can’t know how it will turn out, but we don’t need to fear that it will turn out wrong. It’s ours to create, and the process of creating is where the joy lives.

Thanks again to every one of you who encourages me to keep writing. You can’t possibly know how much that means to me.

Work, Luck & Payoffs– or, Some People Are Already Badass

This post was prompted by another blogger, Beth Brousil. I always enjoy her posts. Beth was mulling over the expression, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” In her post, she talks about working hard for a break in the art world. Some artists get a break, and some don’t. Is that based on hard work? Or just luck?

Both, says I. Some people work their hineys off and reap financial rewards. But some people—particularly in the creative world—work their hineys off and never enjoy the luck, or the break, that results in the recognition or payoff they’ve been hoping for. Meanwhile, others who seem less talented or less deserving get recognized and make a bazillion dollars. And that sucks.

I often discuss this with my dear friend, Valerie Noble. I’ve known Valerie since I was 10 years old. Now I have the great pleasure of working with her every day.  Most days, I subject her to my entire stream of consciousness while we sit in the office. Lucky girl!

Anyway, Valerie wrote a novel. It’s young adult sci-fi, and it’s good. Really. You may think that I am biased, and maybe I am. However, when friends ask me to read their writing projects, I usually cringe. I’m pretty critical, and very honest, but I’m also kind. Which means that usually, when people say, “Read this and let me know what you think,” I’m screwed.

Now, Valerie is a smart woman. I know she’s an avid reader with great taste in books. (More precisely, my taste in books. I borrow hers all the time.) She’d been working on her book for a long time and had input from a few different readers, so her manuscript wasn’t raw. So when she asked me to edit her book, I figured well, it won’t be terrible, anyway. Plus she was going to pay me to edit it.

I sat down with my pencil, ready to edit. Somewhere in the first chapter, I dropped the pencil because I was too engrossed in the story to notice the mechanics. I stayed up until two in the morning and finished the book in one sitting—just like I did with The Hunger Games.

Yep—it’s REALLY good.

So now she’s working on getting it published. She did everything she was supposed to. She researched the proper format for manuscripts and how to write a good query letter. She began to self-promote by starting a blog and a Twitter account, and networking with other authors and agents. She sent out query letters in search of an agent, and she got one! She has worked, and worked, and worked.

I hope with every fiber of my being that it gets published. It’s like she’s my pregnant friend, and I’m waiting for the baby. Whenever she calls me, my first thought is always, “Is this IT? Did she get a book deal?”

She deserves it. We all want it for her. But the truth is, a book deal may or may not happen and we have no control over that.

This is what I’ve told her from the very beginning: whether she gets published or not, she has already achieved something GREAT. How many people could be that creative, to conceptualize a novel? How many people are full of ideas, but never execute them? How many people start but don’t finish? She had the creativity and the discipline to actually get it done. And she had the humility and sensibility to subject it to the criticism of others and work out all the kinks. Then she did the boring, discouraging work of querying agents.

Did I mention she did this while she was in school full time, working, and a mom?

If the right reader from the right publisher reads her manuscript at the right time, she will get a book deal. But whether or not that happens, Valerie is already a success. Yes, I hope she gets recognized and I hope she gets paid for her work. But I could not be any more impressed than I already am. I could not admire her more than I do right now. She conquered all the dragons we all fight: self-doubt, a busy schedule, distraction, writer’s block… and she did it anyway. Now she is working on the sequel.

Back to the expression, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”  Maybe working hard doesn’t always result in lucky breaks. But it does generate results. In Val’s case, it produced an engaging, original book. It also gave her the confidence to start a second. It opened a new world—the world of writing and publishing—that she had never explored before. She’s earned the admiration of family and friends who’ve read the book and encouraged her. She’s got an incredible sense of accomplishment.  And she got her story out—she gave life to the characters born in her imagination.

Here’s another expression we’ve all heard before: the joy is in the journey. Seems that there’s quite a bit of payoff in the journey, too. We have to learn to recognize the other kinds of payoffs—not just fame and fortune. I deeply respect people who have the courage and discipline to pursue their passions, whether or not they become commercially successful.

Fingers crossed that it happens for her. She has definitely earned it. Because the book is with a literary agent now, I can’t tell you too much about it—seems there are rules about that. But if you want to know more about Valerie or follow her journey, you can read her blog here.

Me and my badass writer friend, Valerie Noble.

Everyone should have a badass writer friend for inspiration. Valerie is mine.

 

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