Today I have found that another of my masks has hit a snag in their proverbial goals and given the success I had allowing my Wizard persona to engage with the issues Sensei was having from a different angle, I have decided to allow Writer to present his problems to Wizard in hopes that something useful shakes loose. The following is my imagined inner dialogue between the two.
WRITER’S PROBLEM: For the past month I have taken on the very real dream of becoming a published author. Without getting too specific, my basic goal is to achieve a level of success and notoriety similar to J.K. Rowling. Now, I can already feel “real” writers sneering at this, and I myself share their disdain of her mainstream success, but the more I danced around what I wanted my life as a writer to look like, the more I realized I basically wanted what she had. I am currently working on a trilogy of young adult fiction novels which star a young gay teenager as a protagonist who goes on a wild adventure to a fantasy land and in the process saves the world. As perhaps stereotyped as that sounds, I really feel like the story is a winner, and would be very successful if I could ever finish it. So, all of that to say, I took a vow to finish the rough draft of this novel by Halloween, and with the due date just a day away, I am barely done with a third of the novel. Basically, despite a lot of determination and early progress, I have hit this wall that is almost like writer’s block, where I sit down every day to write but am inevitably distracted by other concerns or just plain can’t get the words on paper. I know very clearly what the story I want to tell is, but I keep getting caught up in how to tell it, and I guess feeling very inadequate to the task.
WRITER’S EXTERNAL OBSERVATIONS: I notice that my external environment is very cave like. I have a massive desk I go to, where my computer screen sits pushed back into an alcove, and the rest of the room is very cluttered with things that my roommates are in the process of unpacking. I also have a lot of access to resources/distractions on my computer. Often, I will sit down to write and feel the need to go looking for a certain something that I can’t quite put my finger on; either clearing my head by taking a hot bath or a long walk, or feeling the need to get inspiration by searching for artwork or watching certain television shows or movies that have the right “vibe” for what I am working on, or just plain goofing off to try and let things flow naturally. The problem is that these things once occupied some of my writing time, and now seem to occupy it all.
WRITER’S INTERNAL OBSERVATIONS: I notice that I ache inside when I go to write recently. I finished a major cycle of the novel’s story about mid-month and ever since then I have noticed a sharp uptake in my comfort seeking behaviors, like watching lots and lots of television, making chocolate chip cookies at night, pleasure internet surfing for long periods. I have also been ill about once a week since then. I am aware that I am not staying on task, and aware that I am not honoring my commitment to myself, and this produces a sort of rebellious guilt where I feel guilty but tell myself I shouldn’t and get caught in this sort of inner-wrestling match between both sides “knowing better” than the other. I go back and forth between the opinion that this is just simply my unique writing process and I should trust myself, and believing that if I am going to improve to the point of being a JK Rowling then I need to develop discipline. To me, discipline begins with the mastery of self-indulgence, so you can control yourself.
WIZARD’S OBSERVATIONS: Well, I immediately notice two things in the way you speak about your writing: you speak of it in terms of control and fear. You also seem to have a lot of really twisted up ideas of how writing is supposed to look; from ideas of what success is (“like” JK Rowling), to static images of what a self-accepting writer behaves like. You seem to have cobbled together a lot of opinions and turned them into a dream or a goal. There isn’t anything wrong with that, as long as you remember that you made it up. When you let it slip into the realm of a “this is how it SHOULD BE” statement, then you are beginning to play with fire. There is also something nasty wrapped up in your last comment about discipline…I feel like there is a lot of self-judgment that legitimizes itself under that word for you, which makes any healthy discipline you try to implement immediately tainted. Finally, this bit about the cycle in your novel producing a sort of wound in you; I think that “wounded” part of you may be asking you for something you aren’t yet hearing clearly and as a result you can’t get this place in you to stop itching/aching. That is a nasty predicament you have there!
WIZARD’S SOLUTION: I’m afraid that I’ll get pegged as a one-trick pony here, given my previous advice to Sensei, but I think there is an excellent lesson to be applied, again, through Zen Buddhism. Now, I am in no way a master, or even an initiate of these teachings formally, but a lot of their thinking really provides some great freedom. For this problem, I would go back to the central tenet of Buddhist thinking which is that suffering arises from desire. You desire a certain picture of success as an author. This is important, to an extent, because you saw a vision and decided that your life was worth leading in such a way as to attain that vision. However, in your daily struggle, what this picture produces is a constant measuring stick that you aren’t meeting. This leaves you with an internal dialogue not focused on how to accomplish the task at hand (write the next chapter in this case) but on how to become something you are not yet (JK freakin’ Rowling). In order to circumvent this, what I would recommend is that you create a physical object, either a collage on your computer background or a real life poster or doll etc, which represents your goals and dreams for yourself as a writer. Get that conversation out of yourself and into the physical reality around you, because you can’t settle it now, but you also don’t want to end it either (afterall, it originally came from a good place). Once you have that established, anytime you find yourself thinking about the future of your writing, internally refer that voice to the object, and ask yourself a refocusing question such as, “What comes next in my novel?”. Basically, the advice is write because you have a story within you to tell, and for no other reason than that. There is, ultimately, no more successful writing advice in my opinion.
I wanted to address your comfort-seeking and the strange feeling you have had since completing that major cycle separately I know you haven’t shared it in the post yet, but I am fully aware that part of the reason this novel is so powerful and also difficult is because you are really speaking to your own inner child and telling a story that celebrates what you perceive to be your own innate strengths in a way that honors that child. No matter what the novel turns out like, whether it becomes the next Harry Potter or whether it ends up unreadable crap you never show to anyone, you need to honor your CURRENT self for the courage that takes. Writing is hard in any event, but writing what is deep down inside is exhausting. Acknowledge the fact that you have continued to write this blog, and that you have finished a major portion of your current work. Yes, you need to find ways of improving your output, but that isn’t something you will into existence. It happens naturally as you focus on your work. And if this writing has somehow caused a raw place in you to be irritated, you won’t fix it by screaming at it to shut up and get to work. Writing from the heart is seldom fast, and while I think setting goals for yourself is very good, you definitely need to hold them softly, as you really don’t know what will pop up out of all of this. Keep this blog going, if you find that you absolutely have to keep producing writing, because it is a good way to casually exercise your muscles between your title bouts with the important work. Honor yourself, and you will heal faster no matter the circumstances. It is the energetic equivalent of keeping clean dressing on a wound; that always helps.
Also, for the time being, completely eliminate the word “discipline” from your/our vocabulary. There is something really nasty there that I am going to turn my own attentions to observing. I’ll get back to you on what I come up with.