Saturday, January 21, 2012

Non-attachment - What does it mean for a writer?

Hi all.  I haven't posted in ages, it seems.  I did "finish" Windfall and three of my beta readers are now done with it and I seem to have significantly improved the thing on this rewrite.  Whew.  I just reread chapter 1 today and I guess it is okay.  I still think I have so much to learn.

I remember when I first started the project.  I'd wanted to create a fantasy universe since I was in 5th grade or so, so it had been a long standing dream of mine.  When I started staying home with my kids I decided to go for it.  I figured I'd have enough free time to make it into something for the first time in my life. Since I wasn't working. Ha!  Now I'm working, divorced, watching my kids, AND writing. Boy was I wrong about how much time you can squeeze out of a day to write.

The point of all this is to tell you that my first draft of Windfall - and by first I mean really second.   Hmm. Well anyway, my earlier drafts of Windfall really sucked.  And they sucked for a lot of reasons.

The first was my writing. It was tangly.  It didn't flow and it was confusing.  Like the way I think, honestly. I have to work hard to fix that in everything I write. I tend to be very... let's say non-linear.

The second was me.  Yeah, it was.  I think that's why it hurt so much knowing it wasn't good.  Sure part of it was a sense of desperation that this was my shot and I had to do it, do it right away, make it fabulous the first time or give up.  And part of it was how much time I'd already invested.  I mean a serious amount of hours went into this thing and I'm still not sure it's ready.  But the truth is that I feared deep down inside it was me - as in my personality - getting in the way of the work.  And today I think I was right.  I'm not saying I'm not a likable person or anything.  But what I've learned from yoga is that my energy can sometimes get overwhelming for others.  I can just get so strung out and invested in something, so pushy and intense, that others just run for cover because they don't want to be around that.  It's just a tendency I have.

Yoga helps me with this.  It helps me to stay calm and to have what's called non-attachment.  Not detachment but the ability to accept what comes with a tranquil mindset.  In yoga we learn that some things are seen by us as good and others as bad but the truth is there are really just things that happen and it is only us that puts the judgement on them.  And since we aren't all-knowing, our judgement of good and bad is often simply wrong; we don't know our future.  Also, we can stay more calm in the face of change when we try to judge the change less.  I don't mean to say that we shouldn't or won't feel things but just that we can distance ourselves enough from those emotions that we don't let them rule us or take us over.  It's hard.  Often I fail at it.  But that's okay too.  When I fail, I still love myself anyway.

I hope that my energy is more attractive to others this way.  That I'm not so overwhelming and intense.  But I imagine it is a process that will take time to master.  But I assure you that the energy of my writing is directly related to the energy of me.

And so that brings me to writing.  How is it possible to put so much of yourself into your work knowing that it may never be read by more than a handful of your friends?  I'm not sure.  But one thing I know is this. When my life is good - meaning I have a safe place to live, yummy food to eat, my health, family and friends and interesting projects to work on - there is no reason for me to feel desperate for some sort of riches or fame that might come if I was a best-selling author.  I've no idea if I'd even like that.  So the trick for me to find more peace in my writing was to find more peace in myself and how I deal with my life.  It's been really tough to do that while moving and getting divorced.  But today I feel a peace.  I'm working hard, doing chores and such, and yet it feels really peaceful and good.  There is contentment to what I have in this moment.  

My perfect moment might be hugging my boys while we watch a movie or even shoveling my driveway or gardening.  Mindfulness (like is found in yoga) makes simple little tasks suddenly feel more interesting than they ever did before.  So I can be less invested in the outcome of this project and hopefully keep my sanity.  Course it would be cool if people wanted to talk about my characters or if I didn't have to worry about how I was going to pay next month's bills but I'm somehow okay if writing never pays a single bill and if nobody but my dad talks to me about my characters.  I'm definitely going to keep trying - and I still haven't sent Windfall off to one single agent - but this year I will.  And if it gets picked up - cool - and if it doesn't, I will know that I loved it and it was fun to do.  And maybe - just maybe - that means I'm okay now to send it out.  Now I can almost say - I don't care what happens - it isn't true, I do still care very much, but finally that caring isn't making me insane.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Loud Mistakes

My friend Kate sent me this encouraging article yesterday:

For those of you who are only going to pretend to read it, I'll paraphrase. Basically it tells the story of how Joshua Bell, the world's reigning King of the Violin, effed up the beginning a concerto royally at his first competition. But then he stopped, collected himself, and tried again. He ended up playing better than he ever had in his life, but moreover, this:

For me it was a major revelation, and it taught me that when you take your mind off worrying about being perfect all the time, sometimes amazing things can happen. So much of performing is a mind game. You’re memorizing thousands of notes, and if you start thinking about it in the wrong way, everything can blow up in your face. When I’m onstage and make a mistake, I remember back to that moment. I learned from that experience how to get into that zone. The competition ended up launching my career and my confidence in a lot of ways. It was a turning point and a lesson I use to this day.

As both a writer and a musician, this really made my heart feel all warm and snuggly.

I'm no Joshua Bell, but I know exactly what he's talking about.

My sophomore year of college was the 300th birthday of J.S. Bach. Maybe it wasn't the 300th but please don't make me do the math. At any rate, the College of Music had this HUGE concert and basically performed as many of Bach's works as they could fit in.

I was chosen to play a fugue. Anyone who's ever played a piano fugue knows that it's not just one melody you're playing but up to 8 at a time. So I worked hard. I practiced umpteen hours and lost sleep over it. And when the day came, I got up in front of my professors and fellow students and... totally choked. The first measure was perfect. Then I couldn't remember the second measure. Or any of the others after that.

That whole expression about wanting to crawl in a hole and die? That was me. At my next piano studio meeting, I couldn't make eye contact with my professor. I wanted to hide under the piano and cry. But then he said to me, "Laura, I want you to play the fugue for your quarter jury. You have to show them you can."

When the quarter ended and it was time for my jury, I ended up playing it perfectly for the keyboard faculty. I was in this beautiful concert hall and I remember that moment so well. It felt like it was just me, a Steinway, and Bach. And I felt SO FREE.

Why was it so easy this time? Because it was no secret that I could mess it up. I knew; the professors knew.  And the thing was, even if I messed it up again, I'd already felt that sting. This time it wouldn't be as sharp. Also, on the flip side, giving yourself permission to make mistakes also acknowledges that you can do better. It not only makes it easier to try again, it pushes you to. The pressure from the outside was off: I wanted to do better for ME, because I knew I could.

My piano teacher when I was little used to tell me, "If you make a mistake, make it loud so I can hear it. I can't help you if I can't hear your mistakes." It's something I tell my own music students now. Mistakes let you off the hook, they push you to grow, and they in some ways measure your progress.

As I'm writing this today, there's a particularly painful rejection in my inbox. The details don't matter except to say I felt more invested than ever in this particular situation. It stings. I'm embarrassed. I kind of want to hide and cry for a while.

But so what? I'm going to make this loud, that's why I'm telling you this. Yeah, I didn't get the agent I was hoping for, but now I can look for other fabulous agents, beef up my query, tighten my writing. I feel that push to prove to myself that I can. Also, I wrote today like I haven't written in a long time - like a person free of any sort of pressure. And it was WONDERFUL. I was writing for me again, not writing to impress, or towards publication, or any of that. Amazing and interesting combination, isn't it?

But more than anything, that rejection was a big step for me, a huge measure of progress. There was a time I didn't think I'd ever ever be brave enough to let anyone read something I wrote, and now I'm facing the sting of rejection and... faring well. I worked up the courage to send out my writing. That's progress. I sent something GOOD out to be read, good enough that this is only one of many agents who have my work, and that's really great progress. And I don't feel broken, and that's a much more personal thing yes, but a big step in the right direction for me.

So I'll just leave you with this final thought, a part of the New Years blog from the amazing Neil Gaiman:

"I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're Doing Something.

So that's my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody's ever made before. Don't freeze, don't stop, don't worry that it isn't good enough, or it isn't perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you're scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever."