Yesterday morning I woke up with a story in my mind. Not just a vague feeling of a character or a setting or a particular scene. A full-blown, in color movie that played itself on the movie screen in my head. It wasn’t a dream. I dream in color, much like the movies in my head that my Muse feeds to me, but they have a different feel, a different context. I know they are about me. This was not a dream. This is also the first time that this has happened. I sketched the concrete building that the children were in, the two main characters, Sara and Adam, the two oldest, what they looked like, what they were wearing, why they were being held in the facility, what the guards looked like, the rusted chain link fence that surrounded the compound, the weeds along the bottom edge, the second fence that housed the utility boxes for the facility, and the river that flowed past the structure. There were the feelings of the characters, even the flow of Sara’s hair, Adam’s thoughts about her hair and how it smelled and felt, the scrapes along her back, long and bloody and that would scar badly, as she shimmied under the fence, and then the feeling of drowning, then of being saved. I have no doubt that, like my dreams, it was a message from my subconscious: Get writing! Message received.
“So, are you a writer? How do you know? When do you say it? Is it like losing your virginity? One day you are, then you aren’t? Can you be a little pregnant, a little bit of a writer? How often do you have to do writing in order to keep your claim to the title ‘Writer’? How many pages do you have to write?” All valid questions when one begins to embrace the writing life, according to Heather Sellers in her book, Page After Page. Her answers: “You can say you are a writer any old time. You can declare it so. You can declare it today. You don’t even have to write. It is a thousand times better to say ‘I am a writer’ and not write than to say ‘When I have time, I want to write.’ The first one is a potentially helpful lie, maybe a goal. The latter is a little loop that can lead you to much unhappiness. Try this. Say it aloud. ‘I AM A WRITER.’ Is it weird? Now say it this way: ‘I’m practicing writing.’ Is that more accurate? If you started saying ‘I write”, what would change in your life?” As we’ve been investigating, to say “I write” or “I paint/cook/sculpt/dance/compose music”, much would change in our lives. We would have to say no to some things so we can say yes to that part of us that calls out, in my case two days ago, (though that voice has been whispering wonderful and enticing gossamer dreams in the forms of words for many years) and speaks to us in the twilight between deep sleep and wakefulness as the sun’s rays reach into the alpine glow of predawn. To take creativity as a lover, at the center of our lives, is a commitment. Like having a child, adopting a puppy, starting a business, taking a marriage vow, these, like writing, changes lives. For me, I say, “I AM A WRITER.” What say you?
Sellers confesses, “I knew I was a writer. At some point, it becomes impossible to deny it any longer. I imagine coming out is like this. It’s a process. You get a little braver. Slowly. You test the water on strangers and in safe places. You can’t deny it-your essential self comes out. Becoming more conscious of the kind of writing self you’re carrying around inside of you is a key step in creating a happy, delicious writing life . . . You can’t imagine love, you have to be in it.” And I say the same thing regarding the creative life. If we talk about it, dream about it, read about it, watch others do it, then that’s the part of being a voyeur. Fine, if that’s what you’d rather do, if that’s how you’d rather live, on the fringe, always watching, never doing. No judgement here. But if you’d rather be in love, be steeped in the magic and hard work and wonderment and release and discovery that creativity brings to your life, then start slowly or jump in with both feet, but decide and embrace your choice, one way or the other. If you hold your courage close and allow the fear to be excitement, then . . .
“For many writers, the dream of publishing a book is as so far as they ever go . . . If you follow your heart, write only the pieces you alone can write, if you keep your mind open to learning, if you conquer lousy mental habits and self-defeating thinking, revise your work, join writing communities, and submit pieces to appropriate, well-researched markets, you will get published . . . If you write every day, for a good while . . . put your time in the trenches, going to readings, studying your craft, working on other people’s work, working on your own, and smartly sending it out, you will get published.” There are a million ways to get published, and a million ways that prevent that dream from occurring for many creatives. I’ve come across more references that equate writing, and all creative acts, to education. “Being a writer isn’t going to make you rich and famous . . . It’s what you do because it’s cool to think and see and feel in this way, trying to communicate something vital about the human experience to other people. Writers are trying to complete the picture, contribute to the sum total of what is understood about us.” A thousand ‘yes’s’ to this quote from Sellers. Refer back to any of my earlier posts when I ask, “Why do you write?” No right or wrong answer. But we need to be clear. If celebrity is a by-product of what we do because it’s a tiny part of our dream, the larger portion being that we create because we need to express the human condition from our point of view, to understand, to make others understood, to find our place, to help others make connections and make sense of, well, everything, then may there be countless book stores/galleries/dance studios/restaurants/radio stations to hold all the words/pictures/dances/flavors/music that we use for that expression. Why? “The world doesn’t owe us wise people. We owe the world the cultivation of our wisest self.” And we do that by creating.
I’ve discussed in numerous posts where inspiration comes from and how to take that and invest it in our work. Sellers offers, “Develop your subjects means instead of stewing, whining, freaking out, getting upset, obsessing on your terrible childhood, or lying about like a sludge pile, you have to learn new stuff. Learn interesting things . . . You have to be out in the world in a complex, engaged way in order to grow as a person, and to grow as a writer, you must grow, wisely, as a person. ” These are ways that we can “fill the well”, as Julia Cameron suggests, on our artist dates. Yes, inspiration comes from all places, inside and outside us as a person. When we run out of the stuff on the inside, or if we keep ourselves too isolated, then we must go outside to fill up, to get a new/different perspective, to learn things so our characters become more engaging and we continue on the journey of our creative life.
For any who hang out in creative endeavors, Sellers reminds us, “For writers, rejection is a way of life. It helps to breathe in rejection, get closer to it. Don’t tense up. Maybe if you put rejection in another light, if you surprise rejection, you will be amazed at the energy you have freed up. Can you tell yourself a different story about rejection?” A fellow writer has followed through on submitting query letters. She received her first rejection. She decided to frame the letter. She was expecting rejections, knew the road to traditional publishing wouldn’t be an easy one. Perhaps she’s embracing the thought that with enough rejection letters, comes an acceptance letter. All famous authors were rejected numerous times, often with nasty comments regarding their ability and even the type of person they must be to submit such drivel. She put the rejection in a different light. She’s writing her own story about it. Can you?
How do we get beyond rejection, move past a critic’s negative review? “Your confidence as a writer is going to come from the strength you get in establishing a regular writing practice. Something you can count on. While publication is very juicy and sexy and delicious, it doesn’t change the fact that you will have to go write. You need to focus on that.” The same advice was offered in my last post: write/create, show them and ourselves that we’re not that one (or 20) rejection letters or negative reviews. “Publishing isn’t personal. Publishing doesn’t change your life or make it easier to write.”
The final words I’ll share here from Sellers, “Find opportunities to improve your work. That’s how you want to spend your time. Don’t ever say, ‘What do they want?’ They want simple, clear, pure, true pieces-smart and from your heart. They want clear, proofread, beautiful writing, polished, honed, and not too long. Something with layers, something that took time to make. That’s all anyone wants.”
What do you think? Will you embrace the creative life? Have suggestions on how writers can deal with rejection? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. I’ve struggled past rejection and criticism. I have embraced, and can’t let go of, the writing life. Visit www.myjoyenterprises.com see a taste of where this love affair can take us.