Leading the Witness.

 

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When I ask myself why I never finish anything- my mind will assume that this question is valid and that the statement is true and I will supply all kinds of evidence and end up concluding that I shouldn’t even bother writing. 

I call this particular kind of self-questioning leading the witness.

 It’s like there is this big trial going on inside me and the prosecuting attorney wants me to confess that I am guilty of never finishing anything–and of course I have this very compliant witness inside me that is swayed easily and will provide lots of evidence that I am guilty as charged.

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When I feel stuck or confused, I try to ask questions like: What can I do today to get back on track- to keep me excited- to keep me focused on my writing goalsHow can I make better choices to keep going when I get bored or confused by my script— or how can I increase my focus  when I am distracted and in danger of  losing my momentum?

A writer asking themselves why they are not writing might miss the implied judgement in the question, and judgement of self is not useful for moving forward in life or in art.

Judgement– to stay with the legal metaphor is a way to  punish yourself and lock yourself up in a prison of self doubt. Or if that’s too dramatic-it’s  a good way to at the very least, slow you down.

Who, what and how questions imply that there is a solution–that I can do this–that I can attend to the task at hand.  What and how questions move us into a part of our brain where we can strategize and plan and problem-solve and analyze. How can I get the support I  need?  How can I organize my time to make room for writing?

If we want to transform something about ourselves, change a habit, break a pattern–asking  why is not the best  way to do it.

Writers need to ask why their characters do what they do.

It helps justify an action or a decision.

Writers do not need to supply evidence of their lack of discipline, dedication or actual talent.

So if anyone is reading this and wondering why they aren’t writing painting finishing their masterpiece–   don’t ask why. The prosecutor is leading the witness.

I hope this post  was helpful.

Please feel free to share if it is–

and to comment if you like.

I love hearing from folks who can relate.

 

ART AND COURAGE

If we had to say what writing is, we would have to define it essentially as an act of courage. —Cynthia Ozick

Fear and Courage
Fear and Courage

I do believe that writing is an act of courage.

Courage to keep going when life is in chaos–

courage to keep going when your are tired and drained and empty,

when you think you have been left behind,

when you think someone else is better than you.

when you think you have nothing to say.

when no one pays any attention

to what you have written.

It takes courage to write.

I believe this.

Over and over and over in my life,

my fear has stopped  me dead in my tracks.

And courage was nowhere to be found.

I didn’t understand that fear was necessary for courage to exist.

I didn’t realize courage and fear were inseparable companions.

So now I live my life,

knowing fear is always present

and always talking to me–

And somehow I have to keep going anyway and trust that I can.

Because courage is standing right there with fear-

waiting to be called on–waiting to  take the lead-

waiting to carry me across whatever dangerous territory–

whatever hidden enemies–

I think I am facing.

I need to remember this.

Now especially.

I have an opportunity to include an excerpt of my new play

in a festival of new work but fear is plaguing me.

It’s screaming at me.

It’s sneaking up on me.

Covert attacks.

Constantly.

Every little obstacle that I have to face or every tiny suggestion

that something needs work or should be cut–

is scaring me to the point that I am angry.

I wake up in the morning

with dread that I am not good enough–

That the play is not ready.

I find myself reacting angrily to things.

Or I am annoyed at the person who offered me

the opportunity at the wrong time.

I have to constantly remind myself,

That I am not actually in danger.

It’s just my fear  trying to protect me.

It’s just my fear,  wanting me to quit —

so that I don’t have to take a risk–

or feel the pain of possible failure.

And every demand of my life–

and there are many these days-

seems to suggest I don’t have  the time

or the stamina or the ability.

But  it is just my fear trying to stop me

from failing.

But I am not going to fail.

I can do this.

I can do it.

There is no conquering fear.

There is no need to conquer it.

Courage needs me to know this.

Ready or not here I come.Ready or Not

Poem from a recurring dream.

I have built a little cage

on the edge of a cliff,

where I pretend–

to live contentedly,

rather than learn to swim across

the turbulent waters below.

Cushioned by the delusion of safety,

I hang there trapped–

above murky waters-

as if sitting alone in a cage–

is  preferable to the risk of drowning.

I watch with envy, all the

happy swimmers passing by.

They seem to calm the water

with their powerful strokes.

But the thought of being

swallowed by the current,

keeps me here,

behind the iron bars of

disappointment.

I  have dreamed this flooded landscape.

I have dreamed this turbulent water.

I have dreamed the murky depths.

And I have dreamed this cage.

Now  wide awake–

I am dreaming of a little red boat.

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Cultivating the Creative Habit

“The routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration, maybe more.”
Twyla Tharp THE CREATIVE HABIT

I agree with Twyla Tharp.

I think art for some of us has to be a kind of determined,

intentional creative habit that we submit to willingly.

I think habit is the right word for me.

But it is a habit that we have to hook ourselves into.

We have to manufacture our own psychological twitch.

We have to lace our own blood with the gnawing, clawing,

need to sit down and knuckle under.

This is what keeps the writer writing all the way

to the final words THE END.

Inspiration is involved. Magic is part of it.

Sometimes we need that whisper-that breath of the muse to wake

up imagination. After all what good is writing that is not inspired.

But Inspiration disappears pretty quickly when the work gets hard.

When the idea on the page starts to melt into a confused mess.

When fear and self doubt start their yammering.

But you can rely on good old habit and discipline and yes routine.

They will see you through the hard part.

At least that is how it is for some of us.

When we wait for the muse to inspire us–

or we wait for an opportunity–

to be invited, discovered, adored, chosen–

we can wait a long time.

If I relied on those things I wouldn’t write much at all.

Some people say they need a deadline.

I used to say that.

I said it because I thought it was true.

I thought I needed the pressure and the structure to

call forth my undisciplined mind to do my work.

I don’t think it’s true.

It’s just that deadlines scare me into submission.

And that is the key factor folks.

Submission.

Literally.

I need to surrender.

I need to come humbly to the work.

I need to bow my head and submit to the demands of the work.

Think about it.

The deadline causes us to comply.

We obey. We apply ourselves to the task.

You know it’s funny–but when actors and writers

are invited to send an example of

their work–in the actor’s case to audition–

in the writer’s case– to send a manuscript,

these are the words that are used.

CALL FOR SUBMISSION

This is usually interpreted as an opportunity to deliver–

to offer– for consideration.

Don’t be fooled. That is not what it means.

We are being invited to chain ourselves to our heart’s desire and do the work.

I believe that I need to come humbly and submit every day.

It is not my talent or my experience or my great idea–

that will write my play. No it’s my creative habit.

Some days my talent seems negligible, my idea muddy and unfocused.

I can’t rely on such ephemeral notions.

It is the daily submission to my creative habit/discipline/devotion

that will put words on the page.

Resistance as Stephen Pressfield calls it in his amazing books–

The War of Art.
Do the Work,
and Turning Pro

will show up. You can believe that.

Resistance he teaches is the inevitable opposing force to any creative act.

But I am cultivating an addiction to my creativity that will defeat resistance

like a smoking addiction will defeat a smoker’s good sense.

That is why I am sitting here on this brilliantly beautiful day,

tapping away at a blog post that few will

read. I am enslaving myself to my creative habit.

It’s a beautiful sunny day in rainy Vancouver and I know

that soon our endless rainy weather will be upon us–

but here I am writing instead.

I want to be so addicted to this that I will get the

shakes if I don’t write five pages a day on my play.

Oh and speaking of Twyla Tharp here is something of what her

Creative Habit has produced.

Catching stories-ideas are everywhere right?

I find stories everywhere and I grab em when nobody’s looking.

Sometimes the stories are attached to people I pass on the street.

I take the stories home and make them my own.

Yesterday I saw a story in a red hat and fishnet hose running down the street waving for a taxi.

I wasn’t fast enough. That story got away.

Today I saw a story on the Broadway bus.

It was attached to a bedraggled little woman wearing a sparkly witch hat.

She had a sign hanging around her neck.

I read the sign as the woman came down
the aisle. It had a lot of biblical quotations on it.

I just knew she would sit beside me.

And she did. Her sign kept jabbing me in the ribs.

“I had a vision from God” she said.

“He told me  that he is sending down a doozy of an earth quake”

I like it when God uses words like doozy I said.

. I got off the bus with the story in my net. It’s my story now.

I don’t think I will see the woman with the witch hat again, but I have the story.

I went to the coffee bar the other day.

A  woman dressed all in pink  came and asked me if she could share my table.

She had at least 30 silver bangles on each wrist.

I could see she was dripping with stories. She was  festooned with stories.

One story  got up on it’s hind legs and whispered something at me in a raspy voice. .

I could hear it distinctly  when the woman  asked me for a cigarette.

The story wanted to tell itself to me.

The story wanted to  jump  in my net. It didn’t need the slightest persuasion.

It was coming home with me. I know what to do with a story like that.