Writing is what you do when you compose an email. Creating is what you do when you compose War and Peace. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the first resembles the second as the lightning bug resembles lightning. The movement from composing an email to composing War and Peace isn’t quantitative: it isn’t the process of stringing ten thousand emails together. It isn’t the process of writing 250 words every day or writing for an hour every day. Rather, it is the act of stepping off a cliff and tumbling, in total bewilderment, head-over-heels through creative space.
The writer looking to do some interesting work on her novel, memoir, screenplay, essay, or poem likely needs to move, not from Boise to New York, not from her Jungian therapist to a Freudian therapist, not from workshop to workshop, but from her current way of being to a different space, to “right inner space.” The first thing you have to do in order to acquire this right inner space is to shed your everyday personality and become a weightless, boundless mind whose body and wardrobe are just along for the ride.
Unfortunately, you can’t alter your personality like a snake discards its skin. Your personality is inside every cell and molecule of your being. Therefore you must disintegrate, evaporate, and vanish, in order to reintegrate, condense, and reappear as a creative writer. Right inner space arrives only after your own magnificent demolition and reconstruction. That’s why it may have taken you three years to write a draft of your novel that still isn’t really done or really adequate. You never stopped to blow yourself up. You never stopped being the person bogged down in mind chatter and shackled to the firing of worried thoughts. Picture one of those Las Vegas hotels getting demolished. That’s what needed to happen!
How are you supposed to accomplish this magnificent demolition and reconstruction? Wait: we had better address the dangers first. The primary danger in agreeing to create, rather than in agreeing to merely write, is that you are agreeing to throw over your everyday being and turn yourself into a vehicle run by your imagination. You are agreeing to stand perplexed for a whole year as your plot works itself out, agitated for every second of that year as this idea and then that idea spills out from your firing neurons, all those tumbling ideas demanding to be understood, evaluated, accepted or rejected.
You are agreeing to a new impeccability, where every word, every paragraph, and every idea you set down on paper has to pass muster, not in the first draft, to be sure, but eventually. You are agreeing to bleed for your art on days when your ideas torture you. Do not nod and agree to risk your equanimity and to live tumultuously unless you mean it. Maybe you didn’t quite understand what was being asked of you when, previously, you casually agreed that you were willing to take some risks for the sake of your writing. I hope that the matter is clearer to you now. If it is, it is time to get a new agreement in place.
Now you are really agreeing to unleash your creativity. You are agreeing to undo your mind and redo it with a completely new look. You are agreeing to turn over your inner life to your art. You are agreeing to create right inner space in which worlds and not mere sentences are born. In that space great and horrible collisions will occur. You accept that, embrace that, and refuse to flinch from that. In that space worlds regularly explode. Get ready! If you agree, scribble “I agree!” on the nearest piece of paper.
It is good to have this agreement in place. I hope that you’re excited. You just agreed to be a creative machine, a creative whirlwind, a creative daredevil. Congratulations! To be a writer you must write, but being a writer is not about writing. The next time you worry your brain about whether you can write, slap yourself hard. Everyone can write. Your worry should be whether you are brave enough to vanish into the depths of your neuronal circuitry and come back with creations. You are a diver, not a writer; an explorer, not a writer; an inventor, not a writer; a magician, not a writer.
Agree to be creative. Agree to give up every excuse you have ever employed to avoid getting your writing done. You know what they are: that you are too busy, too tired, too far behind, too burdened by that mean-spirited spouse, too tall to sit comfortably at your desk, too unhappy, too computer illiterate, too constrained by responsibilities, too cold in the morning. Open up to a great piece of fiction-shaped or nonfiction-shaped imagining and begin it!
Have a splendid Sunday.
Author of Ten Zen Seconds