(If you read the title of this blog in Batty’s voice from the movie “Fern Gully”, please hug yourself for me. I love you in the face!!)
I recently read a book called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and it changed my life. No really, it did!! Not because it told me anything I didn’t already know, in fact nearly all of it was stuff I’d come to suspect on my own. It changed my life because it confirmed what I already knew. What this book did for me was calm me down and say, “you’ve got this” in as firm and reassuring tone as a book written by someone I have never met could. As my friend Adam (who also recommended it to me in the first place) put it: “it’s a reminder from the trenches to get back IN the trenches.”
The book talks a lot about the concept of Resistance (capital R), which is that stupid part of all of us that comes up with perfectly legitimate and reasonable-sounding excuses for why we can’t do [fill in the blank]. Diets, exercise routines, careers, relationships, art/writing/film projects, all these and more are destroyed by this evil menace called Resistance.It also talks a lot about how to overcome Resistance and make sure your motives are genuine and pure so that the final product is satisfying no matter what. This was the part of the book that spoke to me the most, I think. This idea of making sure you’re doing things for the right reasons. It talks about how you have to do things because it’s what you’re driven to do, not because you’re trying to make money or please a particular demographic. If you were the last person on Earth, would you do it anyway? If the answer is “yes”, your motives are right on track.
Ok now put a pin in that, we’ll be back in a moment.
As many of you know, I have been working on a trilogy of fantasy novels with my best friend Meggie for the past three years. It’s been a long, hard journey, with a lot of pitfalls and setbacks as Meggie and I learned how to not only create an entire universe and write down a compelling story about it, we learned how to do it with a partner. (This is the most complicated process in the world, and one that I plan on exploring further in this blog. STAY TUNED!!) During that time, our story has evolved and mutated, changed and grown, and all for a number of different reasons. Most of those reasons had to do with telling a better version of the story, but we also went through a phase where we got completely caught up on genres and demographics and appealing to this or that crowd. Needless to say, we started and restarted, wrote and rewrote time and time again. Sometimes the reasons were…reasonable, but mostly they were excuses. That’s the truth.
By the time 2012 started, Meggie and I were both silently questioning whether or not we’d ever finish. I’m not sure either one of us ever verbalized it, but I’m pretty sure we were both wondering if we were kidding our selves or what at that point. We had maybe 100 total pages of fragmented bits and pieces of the first book, almost none of which went together for more than 10 pages at a stretch. There were hundreds of hours of voice notes that never got transcribed going back nearly three years. Each of us had stacks of books exploding in a rainbow of Post-its and page flags, and notes galore, and no idea how to organize it all. What the hell were we doing anyway? We had everything we needed to write a book except one, irreplaceable thing: a love of writing.
But then a marvelous thing happened. People were assholes. For very separate and personal reasons, Meggie and I found ourselves very alone for a few weeks. Now, I can’t talk about her experience, so I’ll focus on mine, but know that we have both come to alarmingly similar conclusions.
I sulked off to my lair in the basement (I think I’m a lair kinda gal) and contemplated how my life had brought me to that point. What I came up with at first were a bunch of really good insights in my blog, Anti Eff Bee, but the thing that really changed my perspective was that I found I enjoyed the writing more than anything. I wanted things to write about. I wanted it so badly, I would sit around and self-reflect and ask myself questions just so I could write about it.
When I took away all the people and distractions from my life, and I was left with nothing to do but entertain myself, what I discovered was that nothing fulfilled me the way that writing did. The first short story I finished a couple of weeks ago was only about 1,200 words. That’s barely over a page. I have never felt prouder! I had finished a story concept. It had a start, a middle, and an end – something I couldn’t say about pretty much anything I’ve done in years. Submitting it for publication, even though I knew I’ll probably be rejected, was such a rush!! It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. Like one part rockstar center-stage, one part graduate student submitting a thesis, and one part ALMIGHTY GOD creating with my very words! And I wanted more!
The funny thing is, this is nothing I didn’t already know. 18 years ago, I started a story for my best friend (yes, the same one), so we’d stay in touch. It was a different time – one without email, chat, or long-distance phone calls that didn’t charge by the minute. We were kids, we couldn’t drive, and it was way too far to ride our bikes. The only thing we had was the United States Postal System. And I could have drawn her pictures, or just written letters, but what I decided to do was tell her a story. I wanted to write about something so amazing, so entrancing, so captivating that she could never, ever leave my life because she had to know what happened next.
Ok now remember that pin? We’re back.
For a hot second I worried that this whole story was born out of misguided motives. I started questioning if it was really good to anybody but ourselves, and if maybe we were kidding ourselves…maybe we should give up. No, that’s Resistance talking. It doesn’t matter that I started the story to keep our friendship going. It matters that when I needed to do something that mattered, I chose to do it by writing. Because writing is what I love to do. If there was nobody else on the planet, I’d still be writing. For me. Because I love it. Always have, always will. It’s who I am.
I’ve been writing a lot these past days, and I’ve never been happier. And when I say “I’m happy” I don’t mean some creepy manic upswing where I’m laughing too loudly at everything or something like that. I mean that I feel peaceful where I used to feel restless. I feel fulfilled where I used to feel empty. My days feel like they have purpose and meaning in a way that nothing else I have ever done has made me feel. It makes me glad I read that book. It makes me glad I remembered who I really am.
One day I will learn that I’m really only good at being one person: me. Until then, I shall give thanks to people like Mr. Pressfield for his notes from the trenches.