How to Write a Book, First.

I thought this would be the triumphant year in which I wrote a book.

Apparently, it is to be the year I learn to write a book.

(If you’re following, yes—I still plan to have it finished soon.)

Three months will mark the anniversary of setting off to finish my little “masterpiece.”

By the end of October 2016, I thought I had everything necessary to push it through the final rounds of editing.

By the end of January 2017, I realized the whole thing needed to be rewritten. (Upwork beta readers at $30 a pop and growing subconscious fear led me to this decision.)  

It needed more information to deserve the title How to Travel For Free. I was not happy with this fact. I wanted to be finished with my first book.

But rewrite I did, and slowly. And distractedly.

Finally I’ve reached what’s essentially another first draft. Whitney has expertly worked through a big-picture edit, and here I’m at another crossroads…

crossroad road sign dead end

My direction? Rewrite. Again.

Recently, I’ve been exposed to the writing thoughts of Derek. At first I thought we were simply two very different styles of writer, but his thoughts have seeped into my brain and I find my writing heading toward change. Now, I question every sentence: Can I cut that word? Can I whet my message?

He’s also led me to (among other things)the book On Writing Well. And not a moment too soon.

William Zinsser’s masterpiece (yes, masterpiece!), is exactly what I needed. I realize now the imperative to hone the basic skill of carpentry before trying to carve flourish into the wood. The art may be in me, but the craft is keenly nascent.

It was silly to think a book I’d begun four years ago and revisited last September would be ready come summer 2017. Fine. Perhaps it needs not a complete rewrite, but at least a complete trimming.

This better understanding of process is a valuable thing to have learned, though. More valuable than just learning how to write a book. That I will learn in time, but not before I learn how to write.

This isn’t to say I’m suddenly morphing into a pro writer—I’m not—but I can sense at least one level up in a game with infinite levels to come.

Before reading On Writing Well, I was disheartened by all the editing work awaiting me. Now I feel lucky to have something on which to train these new writing muscles. 

I’m also rereading Lord of the Rings and, well,

I know what I must do.

 


 

What is this post about? I’m unsure. I wanted to share where I’m at in the book-writing process, but more, I want to know if you’ve been somewhere similar. So tell me.

Leave a comment (and subscribe here)!

photocred: photopin.com

Where Does Honesty Apply?

For fear that they will tell me what I don’t want to hear, I’m refraining from reviewing the posts I’ve written lately.

The sneaking suspicion is that I’ve been complaining a lot about how generally distracted I feel.

Beginning a few months ago, in a state of utter boredom with book editing, lack of social life, lack of work, it seems I turned to haphazard romances spice up my life.

The thing about romance is that it’s really, really engaging. Especially in the beginning. It’s full of untouchable hope and sparkle and mouth corners turned upward ever on their own accord.

New romance: a wonderful drug.

I’ve been doing drugs as a way to escape life block.

foil art of a running escaping person

They say when you grow up with someone who has an addiction (work, alcohol, worrying, painkillers, sex, socializing), that even if you do not share the same addiction, you learn the associated emotional and psychological behaviors.

Depending on the addict, these behaviors may include secrecy, detachment, rage, depression, compulsion, obsessiveness…the list goes on.

Behaviors are habits. Even the non-physical ones, i.e. the manners in which we think and relate to the world. Over time, they become internalized in our nature. Still, they are changeable with concentrated effort.

When we’re young, there’s little we can do to prevent ourselves from acquiring the subtle and not-so-subtle habits of the significant people in our lives.

In January, I went to Santa Fe to isolate myself for writing, but also to isolate myself at all. To reshape my behaviors and try to become healthier in the realm of relationships. It’s not that things were a mess, but I wasn’t as emotionally fit as I wanted.

How does this relate to the creative quest?

If we can’t be honest about the secret hurt selves living inside us, we can’t be honest in our work. Ignoring our unresolved needs and heartaches does not make them any less part of our makeup.

If we ignore painful parts of ourself, we aren’t being honest in relationships because we’re not bringing everything to the table. Especially in the relationship with our own self.

If we can’t be honest in relationships, the relationship is unhealthy. Period.

All the more so because you’ve attracted someone who is willing to accept dishonesty—whether they realize it or not.

It doesn’t take long for unhealthy-ness to become a distraction. We don’t pay attention when things are functioning as-expected; we tune-in when things go pear-shaped.

abstract drawing vaguely pear shaped

If I don’t figure out the thing I’m seeking in these ultimately unfulfilling relationships, I’m doomed to keep repeating this pattern. Without going into too many details, there is a definite pattern.

Just like the abused woman manages to find that small percentage of men willing to abuse (and vice versa), I’m doing the exact same thing, just with a different sort of [much more benign] abuse.

The behavioral commonalities among the small percentage of men I date are too distinct. It’s clear I’m seeking some lesson…but what?

Here’s the frustrating fact:

We will never find what we’re seeking in the other person; it has to be found within ourselves.

It’s so much harder, right, to have to do the work ourselves? Ugh.

Otherwise, we keep attracting the bad stuff with hopes that in focusing on the other person and their issues (which likely mirror our own), we can avoid addressing the heavily-defended zones of pain within us.

We probably had to defend and fortify these zones at some point in life for the simple sake of self-preservation. The defenses grew strong but ultimately unnecessary. Whoever taught us pain, fear, and distrust no longer sits in the ruling chair. We do.

So…what now?

I suppose this means more solitude, more soul-searching, more writing. More trying to unearth the hidden flame that keeps luring the wrong moths.

a lit match and flame

It’s something I have to do for me, but it is also something I have to do for my work, my writing. If there are places I am unwilling or unable to look at in myself, then I can never honestly give me away.

If I can’t give me away, then whatever it is I am giving is simply not the truth.

I want this to be true.


And you, how are you feeling?

Leave a comment! And subscribe for your inbox, it wants it.

photocred:photopin.com

Big Goals and Nesting Dolls

The past month hasn’t felt very productive.

How can I write about creativity or goals if I’m not doing things? 

In an attempt to inspect that feeling, I made a list:

When did the non-productivity begin?

-Launched Indiegogo campaign for my book (early May)

-Got stuck in LA dealing with life-logistics for a few days

-Met a man (as promised, it wasn’t through dating; rather, it crept up on me like the best kind of unpreventable, lasting cold)

-Literally got stuck in LA and took an all-night, brain-draining train to Santa Fe after missed flights. (mid-May)

-Went to a week-long writing workshop with Natalie Goldberg and Bill Addison in Santa Fe. I loved Bill! (late-May)

-Helped the Workshop create a promotional video

-Went across the world to visit “the man” (early June)

-Flew back to LA (now)

 

Two things jump out at me here:

1. Travel seems to lose me around six productivity days per round trip. I’m mentally scattered the day before and after, and generally distracted with movement on the actual day.

I’ve made two trips, so that’s 12 days. With more discipline, it probably could have been closer to four. People with “real” jobs do this all the time out of necessity. Ugh!

2. Since I’m a vagabond without fixed scheduling, I often rationalize reasons not to work on big goals

(brain too groggy->wouldn’t be effective->more optimal to work on minor/easier goals instead).

Rationalizing enables me to put off more difficult things that actually matter to me long-term in order to accomplish the simpler things that only matter short-term. What’s left in the end?

I assure you it’s not long-term satisfaction.

looking up a tree through branches from ground up

Yes, I would prefer a life where I had all the necessary resources to work only on my big goals. The rest of my mental energy would go to reading, cooking, relationship maintenance, and fitness.

A current meaningful goal is to get my book published, but since I don’t have all the resources I need, I do things like launch funding campaigns. Campaigns take effort and check-ins along the way, little minor maintenance “goals” on the to-do list that don’t feel important.

 

We can’t get to the top of a tree by jumping.

 

We have to climb. To deal with scratchy branches, unstable footing, secret spiderwebs.

I have to stop bemoaning the routes I choose to take. It’s like resenting an orange for having a peel.

Big goals have little “must-do” goals nestled within. It’s a nesting doll; there’s a system at play.

My resistance toward the little guys also causes me not to register when they’ve been accomplished. Some days I do no direct work on my favorite projects; then, I’m angry at myself and angry at the tasks and errands I did get done.

I’d like to try to be more accepting of my minor must-do goals. To count them wholeheartedly as valid steps toward ideal goals. I’m not going to draw causal relationships, I’m just going to accept the day’s to-do list and aim to give myself kudos over resentment.

All that being said, I still plan on reinstating a fixed study/work schedule.

…But attempting to welcome [valid] distractions along the way.

russian nesting dolls to represent goals

If you relate, leave a comment—it means the world!

photocred:photopin.com

 

Can We Master Anything?

We write and we believe through the act of writing we are being honest.

The paper, to the pen, to the hand, the arm, the head, the brain.

A straight line. Connected. Mind to output.

But there are no straight lines in this floating space of existence.

No full clarity, no open view of ourself. Not through anything, and not through writing.

Still, with whatever concept of mind we do have, we do our best to create, and that’s the best we can do.

I want to tell you that we can only write and write and in the practice of writing hope to distract ourselves from ourselves and therein discover some form of truth. The salamander caught lounging under a rock.

The repetition of writing brings us to ourselves. It is not the connection of pen, paper, mind, but the meditation, the recurrence of the act which takes us out of our mind to a place not quite within our own boundaries.

Why do we write? Because in the habit of doing so, the writingitself an entity unearthed—begins to take over.

When we learn something new—horseback riding, let’s say—all thoughts must be about technique, procedure, maintaining one’s fears, ensuring the safety of both one’s self and the horse…

With enough practice and repetition comes an intuitive ability to ride that transcends any outline of the idea of what learning horseback riding once meant to you.

Then, it was you on a horse. Two disparate beings learning to cooperate enough that an enjoyable experience could be had.

horseback riding saddle art

One might even say that your focus was centered on control. Control + discipline = mastery.

Yet somehow it happens that the idea of control mixes with the art of riding and begins morphing into an occurrence of symbiosis.

A point is reached (with the right kind of practice) where the horse understands your desires not with reins or clicks or one-word-utterances, but with seeming intuition. It senses your gaze or feels the vague pressure of your inner thigh against its broadly ribbed stomach.

Now you’ve reached a place far beyond the idea of mastering the art of horseback riding; instead you’ve arrived to the place where the art of horseback riding has mastered you.

Think of an art or skill you’ve mastered.

Is it you who really feels so powerful over it, or have you relinquished yourself to a holistic understanding, one that enables you—not itto be overcome?

A professional basketballer is not thinking consciously during the game; he is in a state of flow. 

In the flow state, mental chatter, sense of time, doubts, distractions, and anything outside the utterly-present moment all fall to the wayside. The created spirit of years of effort takes control, and conscious thinking becomes unnecessary.

A chessmaster, though years have been spent practicing moves and variations, does not win a set of 40 simultaneously-played games by meticulously analyzing each move to be made; instead, he lets his long-earned knowledge overtake him, dunking him into a state of flow.  

Though effort was made to nurture the knowledge, the work, in truth, was only to turn oneself into fertile grounds from which the skill itself could grow strong enough to stand on two feet.

We write not to master writing, but to feed the fledgling art within us. Only when strong enough can it allow us to relinquish, if only briefly, the misplaced duty we’ve placed upon ourselves to remain conscious and in-control.

We cannot master an art, we can only hope that it is able to master us.

 


Want to know more about this flow business? Watch Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Ted talk on the state of flow, and maybe even find out the answer to “What makes a life worth living?”

 

 

Otherwise, leave a comment, you creator you, and sign up to follow in your inbox!

photocred: photopin.com

Are You Listening to What You Should Say?

There is the paralysis of not knowing what to say. What should be said. What should be heard.

There is the freedom of simply saying.

Of sitting down while your brain recedes to the background and your fingers move to the foreground so the things that come out are those which themselves wish to be said, which have been waiting, paused, held floating within your ribcage, hoping for you to unbar the gates.

There is the reaction, and there is the release.

We base often the release on the anticipated reaction even though reaction, by definition, is a thing that follows.

The focus, if we can commit to honesty (and can’t we?), should be on the release.

wisp of smoke being released

Let the reaction be what it is; let the people see and think and respond how they wish. Our responsibility is to ourselves, to letting out what is in while listening, watching, and hopefully—if barely—understanding better what and who we are.

How can we offer a thing if we have not given ourselves the space to possess it?

There are times when I dance around the computer, glancing down and around and doing everything but taking a seat to tip tap the keys because fear and doubt tell me that nothing I have to say will be worthwhile.

I want to impress you, I want to connect with you, I want to make you feel something. I want you to share a feeling with me and I want to create within a space nonexistent a thing that exists despite and defiant.

The only way for me to do so is to let pass the things that leak out my fingers, without thought and without predilection.

Sometimes I forget, and I’m sorry about that.

But thank you for helping me by talking to me. Thank you for being here.

 


 

I should point out, I suppose, that the type of writing I’m (vaguely) addressing is not the factual, journalistic, or even story-telling type. It’s something else, it’s this thing I’m trying to do on a path toward finding…something.

What is it?

At any rate, if you think something now (or even later….or even before), please leave a comment!

photocred: photopin.com

“Act As If” The World is Your Oyster…and Maybe?

“Act as if.”

Back in October, I set up a trip to a mountain-nestled town in Tuscany where I could housesit in beautiful isolation for a bit over three weeks.  

Having decided in August that I wished to transfer my focus over to writing and completion of the book I’d shelved a couple years earlier, I felt a strong need to press the “reset” button on life and start off with a clean slate.

An old stone home in Italy where nobody knew me, where I’d have no local transportation, and where a temperamental autumn would keep me homebound was just the ticket.

Reminders of a past life—one in which I lived in Los Angeles spending days at the whim of an agent’s unfeeling directives and nights going to friends’ comedy shows—were scarce.

The distracted and disconnected life was abandoned, and a new one—life as a writer—began.

It worked.

Exactly as planned, it worked.

I woke up early, journaled, fed the alpacas, dogs, and cat, spent time creating this very blog each morning, edited the book each afternoon, then spent the rest of the day devouring books.

Halcyon. Those were halcyon, perfect days.

In that mere month, I finished the book’s first draft.

alpaca kissing meggan

i also received kisses from eyeless alpacas.

Then I returned to America. November and December were hectic, filled with travel and general movement.

January brought me back to solitude, but I grew frazzled in the two months it took to get there. Not just frazzled, but I suppose also some of the adrenaline had begun to wear off.

I think often of that time in Tuscany…why did everything work then, and why can’t I recapture that everything now?

But that woman then and me now are, in fact, one and the same. Of course I can recapture it now.

Twelve Step programs have a saying (actually, they have a few sayings):

“Act as if.”

 

You can probably figure out what it means, but I’ll offer a little furtherance: Act as if means to play pretend with hope that your feelings and life follow the intent.

You might also say “Fake it ’til you make it.

It’s so simple—it’s playing pretend—yet so much resistance arises (for me, at least) in implementing certain healthy behaviors.

Take note:

This is not support group mumbo jumbo, these are scientifically-backed mottos.

You’ve probably heard how smiling actually makes people happier or people with botox literally become less angry overall because they are less able to make angry faces.

These are just a few ways researchers have proven that we are much more able to influence our feelings with our actions than we think.

I’ve been working on inhabiting this space, this life, as a writer for about eight months now.

My mom likes to tell people I’m “in transition.”

Whenever I overhear this I try silently to catch the eye of whomever she’s telling and watch them wonder whether I used to be a man.

In working alone, boss-less, I’ve realized something:

I’m a real tough cookie to work with.

Okay, I actually knew that before going solo, but I thought maybe I’d be easier if I was only working with myself.

Turns out I’m a brat either way.

I tried the laissez faire approach with myself, ascribing to vague daily or weekly schedules and letting the project du heure be dictated by the day’s feelings, but just like hips, progress doesn’t lie:

Things just aren’t getting done.

I’ve been letting action follow feeling versus trusting that feeling follows action.

To fix it, I’m going to have to let the completion of my book (which is my priority) be guided by action, not feeling.

My latest strategy is something I used to enact in college: treating the schedule I create for myself like an actual work schedule.

When gainfully employed, I show up. I stay til the end. I allocate tasks appropriately. Why I allow that to go out the window when working for myself I cannot explain, but it’s time to change that.

happy employee in office at desk

this is the person I’m going to become in my new self-employed life. Look at how happy he is. Becoming this man will complete the “transition” my mom talks about.

It’s time to act as if I’m working for someone else because (unfortunately) I’m subpar when only working for me.

Poor employee and poor boss, Jesus.

The plan is to schedule out my week like I have an “actual” job for which absence can get me fired and fake it ‘til I make it.

Right now, for example, I want to begin proofreading this post and try to get it published today, but I’m acting as if this book author thing is my real job and blog time is up—time to go work on the book for the next couple of hours.

Let’s hope this works.

 


 

If you’ve been riding along the Roadwritten path you know I try lots of things to boost productivity—meditation, dog-training yourself, music training, being robotic, the list goes on.

They all work to an extent, but it seems like I’m still trying to find some magic potion.

What works for you?!

Leave a comment!

photocred: photopin.com