I can be a bit of a suck.
I don’t mind admitting this, because anyone who knows me, pretty much knows it’s true.
Partly this is due to the fact that I’m the baby of the family, and as such, my older siblings often ended up having to put aside their own needs for the sake of sniffling, weepy, fragile little baby-me.
One of my earliest memories is of my brother and sister attempting to change the channel to Bonanza or some such while Mr. Rogers was on and me wailing like the world was ending. They were advised to turn it back.
Because of this, one of the bits of wisdom that struck me most during the Deep Writing workshop I attended last week in San Francisco (which I’ve been asked about a few times), is this: don’t take your moods too seriously.
When presidents act to end wars, we don’t question whether they were happy or sad on that day, said Eric Maisel, during the class.
“We don’t often think that our work is that important, but we should,” he said. “We should think: this is a very important novel, short story, poem, memoir or whatever for me to write, so I need to get to work, regardless of how I feel.”
I love this.
It fits very nicely with my new focus on working, which applies to the actual words that come out of my pen, as well as getting my butt onto the chair. This is: get out of your own way.
Let yourself do the work. Let the story come out. Let that metaphor unfold. Don’t stop and say, This doesn’t make sense or I can’t say that.
Or, as regards the actual working, ignore those voices: I don’t feel like it. It’s too hard. I’m tired today, or depressed, or homesick, or hungry, or restless, or broke, or _________.
During the five-day workshop, Eric brought us through several mini-lessons on getting to the work – and staying there.
His many, many books on creativity, depression, natural psychology, making art, and finding purpose, revolve around art as an action of personal meaning that we might avoid because the act of it – of making necessary choices, of entering the confusion of a piece, of facing the blank page – can cause anxiety. So, we don’t work, then we feel sad, then we take a workshop, then we stop working, then we get depressed, etcetera.
It is good (some might say necessary) information for all artists, even those publishing books, who then have to consider the next book, and are thus obliged to start all over again…
So we talked about how to enter the work, how to stay in the work, how to return to the work after distraction: building a ceremonial bridge into the writing space (not unlike Flaubert sniffing his apples in the drawer), valuing the necessary chaos of process, sticking to a regular writing practice, getting a grip on your mind, and, something else that I greatly appreciated: naming what you’re working on, and deciding on its form, so that “it” (the short story, poem, novel, whatever) becomes ‘meaning container’, allowing you to more deeply determine and enter the required work.
I like this because it is counter to my own early roots in practice which followed Natalie Goldberg’s advice to timed-write until the cows came home. I have boxes upon boxes of notebooks full up of writing that likely honed my voice, but didn’t go further, for a long time, if ever, than that.
He said more, but we also wrote.
We did not write to prompts. We simply wrote, attending to whatever we were working on.
We did this for hours at a time, in a room together, without, as he said “needing it to be easier or harder than it is.” We came out of the work and moved back in after a dog barked or a truck rumbled by.
Some days it was great, others all I wanted to do was get up and drift over to the window looking out over San Francisco Bay or, you know, leave. Just like at home.
Showing up to the creative work that, for you, is meaningful; knowing what happens when you don’t; finding ways to help you enter that creative space and stay there: these are Eric Maisel’s fundamental lessons.
If I can I do it – fighting hard at times against unruly emotional responses to things like the channel’s been changed! – then you can too. Maybe you already are.