Then, inevitably, he blows everything up. Not literally. I mean, just when he’s starting to gain momentum and really make something happen, he trips himself up. Sabotages himself. Sets what he’s doing and what he’s done on fire and walks away. And all of us watching it happen shake our heads and sigh.
It’s like he’s programmed to self destruct.
Artists (writers included) are known to be a temperamental lot. You know the stereotype: the tortured artist. We find community in our angst and court our pain in search of inspiration.
Which is fine, I suppose, if that’s all you want to do. But I have to wonder if at some point that kind of drama becomes our work instead the art we were creating.
In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield refers to this kind of behavior as a form of resistance. Julia Cameron refers to it as “the twitch, the flu, the deadly disease” in her book Supplies: A Troubleshooting Guide for Creative Difficulties. It’s that thing you allow to get in your way so you don’t have to accomplish the thing you’re really meant to accomplish.
I used to be this way. I used to unravel my work so I never had to get where I wanted to be. Why? I’ve asked myself that a lot. The best answer I’ve found is that success means change and change can be scary.
Reminds me of that Marianne Williamson poem:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
I wish my artist friend would read The War of Art or Supplies, or Marianne’s poem. But, like a kind of depression, when you’re in a pattern of self-destruction, you don’t really want to hear the answer. You just want to keep being roiled up in the confusion and drama and somedays.
But the answer is pretty easy. (Okay, it’s hard, but also…easy.)
You do the thing you’re scared of doing. You go that extra step. You finish the work. You put away the matches and let the thing live and breathe and shine instead of burning it to the ground.
I think James A. Owen might say it best in his book Drawing Out the Dragons:
“If you really want to do something, no one can stop you. But if you really don’t want to do something, no one can help you.”
Are you programmed to self destruct? Whether you’re able to hear this now, or whether it just sits in your subconscious for a while until you are ready, the truth is this: you don’t have to burn what you’re building.
Just put the matches down.
The more years I live on this earth, the more I understand there is power in letting go.
Letting go of what you want. Letting go of what you’re better off without. Letting go of the outcome.
When my daughter was younger, she was very attached to her toys (well, she still is). She never wanted to give anything away, whether to sell in a garage sale or to give to a charity. Again and again I would tell her that if she’s clinging to what she has, her hands aren’t free to receive new things, different things, better things. Sometimes she understood. Sometimes it was a battle.
All that time I was telling her this lesson, I was also talking to me.
Writing — more specifically, revising — is teaching me this lesson now. This idea of cutting away what your story is better off without so there’s room for something new, something better — even though you love what is already there.
It can be painful, the letting go. But what I’ve found time and again is it’s always better, after. What comes as a result of letting go is always surprising, and always greater than what I imagined it would be.
In my first rounds of edits with my editor, I had to rewrite the ending of my book so it fit the new two-book structure we’d created. This was very difficult for me. I loved-loved-loved my ending. But it wouldn’t have made sense in the story arc if I’d left it as is. So I cut the chapter and wrote a new ending. That new ending completely opens up the possibilities for the second book.
If you never let go, there’s never room for possibilities.
It comes down to ego, I think, or maybe security. We think we know best and we close ourselves off to the suggestions of others. Or we want to stay with what we know, what’s safe.
Letting go involves releasing what we think we know, releasing what we think we deserve, accepting that we’re not as in charge as we think we are.
When I think back through my life, I can count several situations where I let go of my expectations and the outcome, and it literally changed my life. (And I do mean literally, not the actually not-literal way some people use the word.)
So, ask yourself: is there something you have a death-grip on today? What would happen if you released that grip? What would happen (could happen) if you let go?
I’ve been having an ongoing discussion with a writer friend of mine about…well…about several things relating to writing, but in essence about what it takes to be a “real” writer. In a response to him today, I realized something about myself that I thought others might find useful.
Here’s what I wrote:
Sometimes I think people (myself included) create elaborate mechanisms to prevent us from pursuing our dreams. For me, it was doing corporate work for years on end. And most of the time we do this without even realizing it. “When I make this amount of money, then I’ll finally be able to…” Or, “When I get out of debt, I’ll…” Or, “When I get promoted, I’ll have time to finally…” But the truth is, if we really wanted to achieve our dreams, we’d make time or find the money or whatever. Instead, we make choices that allow us to avoid our fears. On a subconscious level we choose comfort over the unknown.
It’s always easier to see things in the rearview, but writing this response this morning made me see just how many years I spent (not sure I can really call them wasted, as they shaped who I am today) deliberately avoiding my dream of being a writer.
Yes, deliberately. I always knew I wanted to be a writer. I would whine to my husband how I wanted to be a writer, but do little to actually move toward that dream. My husband, God bless him, would nix my whining with a short, “If you want to be a writer, write something.” Hard to argue with that. But instead, I’d find some other distraction or get caught up with work and busyness.
I wonder in what ways I’m still building walls to fend off fears. I’m sure they’re there, but they’re harder to see in the now. I’d prefer not to wait until they’re behind me to understand what they were.
Are you building walls to keep yourself from your dream? Or are you breaking them down?
Happy New Year!
I spent the first day of 2013 looking at sights like this:
Now I’m back in my own shire and my own Hobbit hole, and that means comfort. The sun is shining, hubby has his feet up on the coffee table, the kids are playing with their Hobbit Lego sets and I’m drinking papaya juice.
Not a bad start to the year, really.
A couple of years ago I gave up setting resolutions for choosing a word to guide my year instead. In 2011, my word was “complete”. Last year my word was “becoming“. During our trip, I did a lot of thinking while staring at those snowing mountains. What word would fit where I am now, and help steer me to where I want to be?
I decided on “spirit“.
Main Entry: spirit [spir-it] (noun)
Definition: soul, attitude
Synonyms: air, animation, ardor, backbone, boldness, breath, character, complexion, courage, dauntlessness, disposition, earnestness, energy, enterprise, enthusiasm, essence, fire, force, frame of mind, gameness, grit, guts, heart, humor, jazz, life, life force, liveliness, mettle, mood, morale, motivation, nerve, oomph, outlook, psyche, quality, resolution, resolve, sparkle, spunk, stoutheartedness, substance, temper, temperament, tenor, vigor, vital spark, vitality, warmth, will, willpower, zest
During our jaunt through the misty mountains, I read a book that broke personality types into four categories, and gave lengthy descriptions for each. Of the four, it was blatantly clear I’m a Type 1, which means I like things light and fun. I giggle a lot. I try to offer others hope. My life is often unstructured and my schedule spontaneous.2012 was an exciting year, especially in terms of my writing career. I signed with an agent and landed a two-book deal with Knopf BFYR. My hope this year is to fill out the new shape my life has taken, as well as expand my creativity into new areas. It’s going to take a lot of boldness, courage and willpower (i.e., spirit) to make all my plans happen. I’m going to throw myself into my creative work with zest and spunk and energy (aka, spirit). And I’d like to do it all while keeping perspective on who I am, (i.e., my spirit).
I did a little searching on the word “spirit” and came across this quote from Leonardo de Vinci:
“Where the spirit does not work with the hand there is no art.”
God made me this way for a reason, and my goal is to honor that in the work I do and the way I live this year.
So, here’s to a spirited 2013. *cheers*
First up, pumpkins! Last year, I carved a TARDIS pumpkin. This year, Sherlock.
Second, in light of my favorite quote (“Do one thing every day that scares you”), I visited a creepy, abandoned house this morning with a couple of friends. It was…creepy. After, we went out for coffee to get over the heebies. It’s nice having friends who’ll do random things like that with you.
And finally, I just read this thought-provoking post from Danielle LaPorte, and thought it might impact you like it did me. It reminded me a bit of a post I wrote a while back about the ugly phase of making art.