Sunday, August 30, 2020

How to Write Freely (hint: Befriend Your Mind)


Years ago—via the work of Gabriele Rico, NatalieGoldberg, Anne Lamott, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi—I learned about the right brain vs. left brain, the creator vs. the critic, the writing of the shitty first draft, the generative power of flow. These concepts helped me a lot as a writer. They helped me surrender to the stream (the dream, the trance) of writing. Writing unharnessed, I could feel my unconscious do its work. When I was in the flow, words poured onto the page; patterns and meanings emerged.

And yet there were competing voices. Voices that said writing is hard. Really, really hard. The boot camp voices: You must be disciplined. You must keep your butt in the seat. The existential voices: You have to open a vein and bleed on the page. You must kill your darlings. The masochist: If you don’t suffer, you’re doing it wrong. If you don’t sacrifice your life to your art, you are a poser.

These competing, contradictory voices fought inside me. As I result, I’d experience stretches of flow and confidence, followed by expanses of scarcity and deep doubt. I wrote numerous short pieces, but I stopped several books fifty pages in.

One day I came across a book called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. In his examination of the working lives of famous writers and artists from the 19th century to the present, I saw that the most prolific artists do work most days to take advantage of momentum. 

But not all day, every day. 

Generally three or four hours a day—with a day or two off a week. For many, more work than that becomes self-sabotaging, leading to burn-out. This four-hour pace is about creating a body of work, of living a sustainable life as an artist. Their focus is the process, not an attachment to the product. But what struck me the most was this: They adjust their thinking to their benefit.

While writing or painting or sculpting wasn’t always easy, many of these artists foster the attitude of Willa Cather, who said: 

“If I made a chore of it, my enthusiasm would die. I make an adventure of it every day.”

The word “adventure” popped off the page. Adventures can be arduous. They can have scary moments. But we love them! We choose them!

The book I wanted to write was, in part, about the adventure my husband and I embarked upon: leaving our jobs and home to live as nomads. It was a memoir about how life is an adventure. How we transformed when we stepped into the fertile void. Suddenly, the plot and the process of my project felt interlinked.

It had been six years since I’d written a book. The stakes felt high. I’d retired early in order to focus on my writing.

We were staying for four months at a house in Tahoe. The house had extra rooms, and groups of our friends would be coming and going. I decided that no matter what, I’d write two to four hours a day, with my earbuds in playing music to inspire me, to make it fun—and to block out the noise of all those people. When I took off the earbuds, I’d be living my balanced life: we’d talk, make food, go hiking and snow-shoeing.


The first day I sat to write, I turned on my computer and, with my hands on my lap, took a deep breath. Spontaneously, I closed my eyes, and listened to my inner voice say something like this:

I’m writing today because I choose it. It’s an adventure! It’s about allowing, not forcing. It’s about being curious and joyful. I am doing this because I love it. I’m willing to make a mess, like a finger-painting kid. I trust my instincts. My unconscious will guide me. I’m willing to get lost in the dream of writing.

I opened my eyes and was off and running. Every day, I closed my eyes and gave myself what I began to call a “Meditative Pep Talk.”

Never before had I written so prolifically. Words poured out like water. If I hit a speed bump, I’d close my eyes, breathe, and tap into thoughts served me best. Thoughts like, It’s okay to be unsure. It’s okay to not know. You’re doing this because you love it. You’re not suffering, you’re adventuring.

In four months, I wrote 160,000 words. That’s about five or six double-spaced pages a day.

When it came time to revise, I knew I’d have to cut. I decided I wasn’t killing my darlings; I was pulling weeds so the garden would thrive. Every day I appreciated how all those extraneous words were instrumental in forming the essential ones. I thought about Michelangelo, who said: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

I have a choice. I can believe my fears or I can believe my assurances. As though my process and my product wove together like a Moebius strip, I ended up titling my memoir: Call It Wonder, from OSHO who said: 

“Don’t call it uncertainty—call it wonder. 

Don’t call it insecurity—call it freedom.”

1 comment:

maggieb said...

HI Kate Darlin...writing course time...I'm nothing if not a great procrastinator. Is this your blog? want to get take your writing coach you still have time to do that. Loved the information you had here. xoxoxoxo beste to Dave