Embracing the Writing Life, Part 5

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In my last post, I shared what Heather Sellers wrote in her book, Page After Page, about fear, and how to get around, through, and over it. The question that many creatives raise when deciding to heed the call of the Muse and step boldly onto the path of the creative life, is how to get ‘better’. “Learning how to write better, deeper, longer, truer is a delicate balancing act. You want to learn to write, sure. But you also don’t want to be told what to do, how to do it, to do things differently.” Most times, we think we know what we’re doing. There have been some creatives I have known that have refused to take a class or workshop about how to engage with their medium because they are fearful of being told what to do or that what they’re doing is wrong or, by some weird magic, if they learned how to create differently, then they wouldn’t be able to create how they’ve always created! But we don’t know unless we investigate. Sure, starting out with playing, however it makes sense to us, is a place to begin. In moving down the road to really understand our medium, or even how other paths may help us in developing our chosen one, then we do have to read, ask questions, attend a class or workshop. I believe that what other creatives have to offer is like a buffet: I take what works, and leave the rest.

So, after we get comfortable with how our Muse speaks to us and we’ve investigated how other creatives go about their projects, then what? “How can you get more comfortable in your skin? With your writing self? Simple. Listen and practice. What messages are you sending to your writing self? Practice paying attention. Practice listening to yourself.” How  we talk to ourselves can determine how much we enjoy our craft or how successful we are, however it is that we define success. Are our comments positive? Or does our critic take center stage? An amazing thing happens when we create more, whether that’s writing, painting, snapping pictures, cooking, or carving. We get better. We get more comfortable with our medium. We understand what happens if we combine it with music or water or other artists or create outdoors. And the more contented we become with our art then the more the critic grows silent (at least that’s one possible consequence!) .

How do we get better? “You have to be able to waste time. To spend it, luxuriously, in order to write. You must learn this skill.” Along with this is the ability to kick guilt to the curb. It takes time to get quiet, to listen to the whispering of the Muse. Sometimes, the quietness comes with feelings of “I should be doing something else, I should be more productive”. The truth is, this time isn’t ‘wasted’. It’s just redirected. It’s only ‘wasted’ if we allow ourselves to play the game of either-or, and allow our art loses. As stated in the first post when I began to share Heather Sellers’s ideas from her book, we invite our creativity into our lives ‘like a lover’. We make time, and yes, sometimes that time seems like it’s wasted. But did time stop when work was happening on our project? While we played with our medium? Were their hints, or a giant tidal wave, of contentment and joy? Did we learn something about ourselves or our art? Then it wasn’t wasted.

One of the first posts I ever wrote regarding creativity was ‘starting from where you are’. We are taught this in yoga, in learning something new, and in writing. “If you aren’t dreaming down deep into your own history, your own passions, your actual true, real, daily concerns and obsessions and the shapes of your lived life, you aren’t going to be able to improve as a writer. You have to start from where you are.” We write what we know. If we know how to fix cars or take pictures or teach Algebra, then that’s what we end up including, at least at the beginning. We’ve talked about creating from the deep parts of ourselves, exposing the shadows. How do we find those pieces, besides looking to our parents (discussed in the last post)? Our very own compost pile. “Compost—both the backyard kind and the writer kind—takes about, what, a year, three years, some say seven, to happen. To ripen and mature. You might not be able to write about things that happened last week. Most new writers have the best, most rewarding early success writing from the layers of material they’ve walked around with for a few years. Years. . . It’s seven years before I can remove my own need to present myself as the Beautiful Tormented Misunderstood Star of my own drama and get at something of the truth. Compost is how many professional writers refer to their material.” Here I think there’s a difference between getting at the ‘compost’, the stuff that’s been hanging out in our bodies and in our nightmares and resides in the unspoken words that we carry around, and writing (or creating) as a catalyst to rid ourselves of (or accept or make sense of) traumas. Both have value. Both can be investigated. Both help to heal. But in Sellers’s idea of ‘compost’, it is the stuff from before. The last relationship, the college friend we lost touch with, our first boss whose voice we hear every time we mess up. That’s the stuff that changes us, alters how we interact with the world around us, good or bad. “Composting will not feel comfortable. Probably ever. Successful writers and successful athletes learn how to handily tolerate discomfort—there’s a higher goal. . .When you hit compost, you know. It doesn’t feel like anything else. It doesn’t feel like air, like an idea, or like soil, venting, or journaling. It doesn’t feel like therapy or friendship. You will know. It’s moist and meaty. You’ll know, and you will have the key to the rest of your writing life.”

I’ll end this post the way Sellers’s ends her classes: “Can only you write this? Are you writing from your lower heart, your thorax, not your head? Are you layering your obsessions in your writing or avoiding anything dealing with what you know and fear? What are you afraid of? It’s right to be afraid—anything that is going to feed honest art damn well better be intense enough to be scary. Are you trolling for the richest, funkiest stuff you have available to you? Or are you wandering around the glossy plastic mall of life, skimming off the top, writing fake, writing ideas?” There are a few short stories on my website that someone once said to me, “If I wanted to know about you, I’d just read what you’ve written.” True, because I’ve dug around in my own ‘compost pile’. Been up to my elbows in it. Visit www.myjoyenterprises.com to see where I create from. Have ideas on how to become more comfortable in creating or how to wade into the stuff that great art comes from? Leave your ideas in the comment section.

 

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