Land Of Lunacy

Some common notions: Artists and writers are a little crazy. You have to be loose in the head, detached, unhinged to create. You need a special sensitivity, perception, and self-awareness to be creative. None of it happens to be true. Your personal psychology has nothing to do with it. You can be plenty wacky and be a good writer. On the other hand, sanity is no disadvantage. Writing is apart from all that. Writing is an act of discovery. You write not because you have awareness, but to achieve awareness.

That doesn't mean that the state of mind you get into when you create is the same as what's needed to function in everyday reality. It also doesn't mean that it won't feel crazy or drive you nuts at times. To create, you must go to a place in yourself that you must avoid in order to survive and function in everyday life. It's looser. It's wilder. It's open to anything and everything. You draw on it briefly, now and then, in normal activity, but it's not a place where you can dwell and fulfill normal, everyday responsibilities.

For example, it might strike you, in a tense conversation with your boss, how much he reminds you of a squat, jowly little bulldog you saw on the street that morning. In that situation, you would have to scramble to keep your mind on what he's saying and to push the idea out of your head before you smile or even crack up and get into trouble. But, if you were writing, you would explore that idea—how he looked, your smiling and telling him what he looks like, and walking out. You also can't be open to anything and everything that presents itself when you're walking along the street. If you were, you wouldn't last long.

The creative state of mind is unusual. You're not in your right mind by normal standards. And to get there you have to let go of the normal defenses, protections, and controls that you must maintain to function everywhere else. Giving up your defenses, going from secure to insecure, is never comfortable. Once you get there, it's never so bad, but crossing over is always a problem. One explanation for the resistance is that in order to create you have to let go of your mind and implicit in the letting go is the fear that if you let go of your mind you could lose your mind. That may be the extreme case, but I think some version of that worry is what makes it difficult to let go.

You can feel good about yourself, your life, your talent, your writing. You can know what you're going to write, know exactly where you're going and what you're going to do and feel good about all of it. But, even with all that in your favor, even with everything as good as it possibly can be, there's always resistance to putting down those first few words. That's because you must move from security to insecurity, because you're letting go of defenses, barriers, protections and opening yourself up to the unknown. Such resistance is not only natural, but constitutes self-preservation in the normal world. But then we're not going to the normal world. We're going to the land of vulnerability, of maximum exposure.

This chronic resistance is not the kind of death grip that's got you with an acute block, but it can lead to one if you don't watch out. You could easily start thinking, If everything's great and I'm still having trouble, how am I ever going to do this? Maybe I don't have what it takes. Again, everything that happens to you is right. You're OK. It's not you. It's the craziness of the process. You're fine.

You're fine, but what can you do about the resistance? Well, let me tell you my routine. I have a little ritual I go through each morning. I have a cup of coffee and a doughnut and I play the Jumble (scrambled word) game in the paper. What I used to do when I sat down at my desk and started tensing up was to tell myself, "Relax. Take it easy. You don't have to write yet. You get these treats first." That was a relief. I didn't have to face it yet.

But the longer those few things took and the closer I got to having to write, the more my resistance and dread began rising and the more I dragged out finishing my coffee-doughnut-Jumble. And the longer I put it off, the more the resistance increased. OK, but, hey, didn't I have a right to my coffee, doughnut, Jumble? Yes, I did, and I didn't need to deny myself. But I did need to find a way to prevent the resistance and avoidance from building while I had them.

What I learned to do was write an instant line. Now, as soon as I sit down, I set my coffee, doughnut, and Jumble puzzle to the side and tell myself, "It's OK. Just do this little bit, then you can have your treats." (Big baby!) Then I immediately write a line or two or a paragraph of what I'm working on. Doing an instant line or two (more if they come easily) as soon as you sit down, before you do anything else, breaks the resistance. One line is enough. Don't start pushing for more, but if more come, put them down.

The instant line accomplishes a couple of things. It breaks the resistance, connects you to your subconscious, and helps you feel, Now that wasn't so bad, was it? It also starts things (your story) moving on the deeper levels of your mind. Often when you get back to your work (now you have a line or so to look over), ideas triggered by your instant line will be there waiting for you. (See chapter 12 for a full explanation of this.) And because I've started things moving, ideas often start coming to me in the middle of the treats.

The writing is drawing me in. That's the best.

I know a lot of this seems pretty silly and wimpy and infantile. That's because it is. We're all big babies when it comes to opening up in this way. We're going to the baby in ourselves, as we must. I've seen macho, body-builder tough guys sweat and shake when I was about to read their writing to the class, even though I wasn't going to give their names. Silly, yes. But these are the kinds of games we have to play with ourselves if we're going to avoid getting hung up, doing nothing for long periods of time.

The old "Just do it!" is lousy advice. It may be OK for sports, where you can power your way through, but it's worthless for creating. If you can power your way through, good luck to you. Most writers, most of the greatest, had to play nursemaid to this kind of "silliness." Creativity requires that you go where lunacy dwells.

A quick footnote about putting things off. When it's time to write, you will often start seeing all kinds of little things that need doing, little housekeeping tasks or calls to make or bills to pay—things that once they're out of the way, you just know, you'll be able to really get going. The answer at that moment is to tell yourself, "OK. Fine, you can do all of that—right after you finish writing? Write first. Save those attractive little tasks as your reward for writing. The strange thing is that after you've written those things are never as important as they were before.

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