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 was recently interviewed by YA author Christine Kohler for a post on her blog, “Read like a Writer” on the subject of writing in multiple points of view.
Christine and I both have debut novels coming out next year, each written in multiple POVs. Christine’s novel, NO SURRENDER SOLDIER, will be published by Merit Press/Adams Media (F+W Media) Sept.-Oct. 2014.
Here’s a link to the interview: Multiple Point of Views.
In the post, Christine examines several novels, from middle grade to adult (including my novel), that are told from multiple character perspectives. She discusses the hows and whys of choosing and writing multiple POVs. The post is packed with information, and is a must-read for anyone writing or thinking of writing a multiple POV novel. Check it out.
Thank you, Christine, for asking me to participate!
I took a break from revisions to catch a recent episode of Inside the Actors Studio with Hugh Jackman. Much to my delight (other than it being Hugh Jackman, hello!) was how the advice he gave pertained not just to acting, but also to writing (and creativity in general).
The part that struck me most (probably because I’m striving toward “perfection” right now) was when he said:
“I’m sure you all relate to this. You do a great show, you can’t help wanting the next night to be better. It’s what drives us. It’s this long kind of road to some weird idea of perfection, which we know does not exist… Actually we’re constantly wanting to better ourselves. I truly believe the job of an actor and the drive of an actor is simulating the internal journey in life, which is to get deeper and deeper into our understanding of who we are. And that actually through acting and through actually releasing and through breathing and through connecting with other actors and allowing yourself and the story to connect with the audience, something greater can happen. So there is this constant thing going on which is not just ambition, not just ‘I want to be better’… It’s actually a reflection of what we want in life, which is for our experience to open up…. How do you get better? You go deeper.”
Replace “writer” for “actor” in that quote, and you see how it’s the same.
Good stuff, that. Important to keep in mind, wherever you are in your journey.
Here’s a full video of the episode. The above quote starts at the 7:11 mark, but I encourage you to watch the whole thing. It’s full of great advice. (And also, it’s Hugh Jackman!)
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?