I was one of those children who regularly insisted, “I can
do it myself.” My parents heard those
words a million times. Bless their
Now I am in the messy middle of writing a book, and I can
most definitely not do it myself.
I didn’t fully realize, when I began this process, creating a book is a communal effort. I kind of knew, but hadn’t considered it at depth. After all, book covers say “by author’s name”. They don’t say “by long list of names.”
The clue is inside the book on the acknowledgements page if the writer has added one, and most do. Right there is the long list.
When I think on it, I had help long before the book idea
crossed my mind. Every creativity book I
have worked my way through, and every author of everything I’ve read throughout
my life have helped me. They’ve laid
paths and rhythms of language within me.
I move to that beat when I write.
I learned from every teacher ways I wanted to play with
words, and ways I didn’t.
My circle of friends are artists, writers, and readers,
book lovers all. They patiently read my
drafts and ask exactly the right questions to unstick me from swamps of my own
making. They celebrate, commiserate, and
push when I need it. I do the same for them,
and gain a deeper understanding of my own creative process.
In my future beyond the drafts stage, there is a stream of
wise partners who will help me create, support, and present the book that shows
up online, in bookstores, and in readers’ hands and minds.
The help list is long and growing.
I wouldn’t have it any other way. I treasure the community coming into being,
the wisdom and experience shared with me, the yes they are offering my project.
I was a do-it-myself child.
It’s a good thing I have changed.
(Written at a friend’s home, grey-blue ocean beyond the windows and a morning sky clearing towards a sunny day. Thanks Wren, for lending me your place!)
I am not very kind to myself. I call myself lazy. I say I am a master procrastinator. The fact that I am in year five of my book draft must make these judgments true. The additional fact that I’ve done several projects during this time, so that I didn’t have to write, also makes this true.
Today I woke and realized these years of off-and-on writing
and the projects-in-between were necessary.
I had to get myself to the point where I could let go of the story.
I had to break my heart open.
In all the time I’ve been writing my blog, I’ve never
talked much of my book draft, other than I was doing it or not doing it. I’ve never talked about the content because
that wasn’t what my blog was for. My blog
has always been for the sake of writing, not for the sake of story.
I am changing that today.
For thirty-four years I had an overtaking illness, fibromyalgia, that shrunk my life and finally, fully cut away my ability to make art.
I was always a good girl. I did everything the doctors told me. I took all the medications. I cared for my body. I adjusted my life, managed, made changes, made excuses.
None of it mattered.
The disease slowly stole away the core of me, my truest self—artist.
The week I understood I had finally completely lost my art
was the breaking point. The book begins
here, and the story traces the healing path I created.
I know this story intimately. I lived it.
I was sure that five years of writing was too long and wrong. I called myself lazy and procrastinator, and
it felt appropriate.
What I had not taken into account, when I began writing the book, was how numb I had been for all the years of illness. I was living through loss repeated over and over. I was living through pain and grief, and I had to numb myself to my emotions. Numb was survival. The only place I allowed my emotions was in my art, where I had control over what I expressed.
Numb is an emotion.
But, telling a story where numb is the primary emotion
doesn’t work. The reader needs something
more to connect into and feel.
My first draft was all numb. The facts were there. It had a story line, but the emotional
connection was ice. I was skating on the
surface of everything I described, and I knew it.
I stopped writing and spent time working on my emotions and
my beliefs about myself.
My second draft was better. I was able to move into fear and love, how they felt, and how love melted away fear.
Better, but still not deep enough.
Then I did two things, perhaps accident, perhaps instinct, and experienced yet another that broke me through the numbness and let the story go.
I wrote a parallel draft during Nanowrimo 2017. I wrote all around the edges of the story,
every other part of my life, and the lives of my family and friends, during the
period the primary story took place.
Because I believed the parallel draft was not the story, I felt
free to write whatever showed up. Because
I’d given myself permission to accept whatever showed up, emotions started
breaking through and I recognized them.
Loss, grief, rage, desperation, depression. Everything I’d buried beneath numb showed up,
demanding to be acknowledged and written.
So I did. I felt the feelings and wrote the words. Painful, tearful, cathartic, necessary. For my eyes and heart only, and those of a few very trusted friends. I made it through the parallel draft.
While I was preparing to begin draft three, I discovered Lisa Cron’s book Story Genius. I put the draft on hold and instead began writing the back story, following Lisa’s process.
While I wrote back story and grieved the losses imposed on me by this now-healed illness, both my Dad and my cousin died, and my Mom fell hard and deep into Alzheimer’s.
So many griefs. They smashed the few defenses I had left.
I was naked and lost.
I kept writing.
There is something to be said for having my heart blasted
I felt everything and I feel everything, pain and joy
both. There is no numbing a blast site
And somehow, for some reason, I no longer wish to.
The emotions running in me have freed my heart and my
story. I can let the story go, and trust
the writing. I can trust the words to
carry what I feel and have felt.
Picture me standing knee deep in turquoise ocean waves. Bare toes, all ten, digging into the sand to keep balance. Leaning my body forward, a telescope to my eye, searching the horizon line.
I want to know what is out there, what’s beyond the range of my vision.
Writing a book has turned me into an explorer, and what I’m exploring is the edge of my creativity. How far can I push this seeming edge? How far can I expand my capabilities as writer and artist?
I’d always thought a project of several years’ length was beyond me. I’d get bored and dump it.
I was wrong. My curiosity for what is next in my book remains as bright as when I began. Not only am I curious about the book, I am curious about my creativity. It keeps changing, reaching and expanding. Every time a new idea shows up, it is something beyond what I have already done.
Helen Frankenthaler, an artist whose work inspires me, talked about not wanting to do something she already knew she could do. I feel the same way.
I don’t mean wildly leaping into complete unknown. I mean standing on what I know, reaching toward what I don’t know, combining the two, known and unknown, and experimenting.
My book project is becoming an experiment. As I complete the work in Lisa Cron’s Story Genius, my vision of the book is shifting. I see something that sits between all text and all image. Not a graphic novel, and not a standard word-only book. I am marrying my capabilities as artist and writer, and challenging myself to go further than what I already know.
As yet, I have little idea where this expanding vision of my book and my capabilities is taking me. My telescope shows me only the open space at the edge that is labelled “here there be dragons.”
I am curious about dragons. I hear they can fly, and some can be ridden. I hear they guard treasure and need to be coaxed to share. I hear they are made of fire. I hear they were invented by someone like me.
I want to write a dragon of a book. A book made of fire and treasure. A book that takes flight and I need to hang on and fly with it, the ride of my life. Guessing I may need asbestos pants in order to stick my seat. I’ll find some.
In the meantime, every day I learn something new about the edges of my book and my creativity. Today it is realizing my interest in my book remains firm, and this makes me happy. Today it is discovering my creativity is capable of handling both short and long term projects, and this makes me happy too.
Today I push out the far edge, and place my new knowledge there. Step forward and stand on the new edge of my creativity, lean forward and balance. Put the telescope to my eye, and see where my vision takes me next. There is an amazing dragon of a book out there, and it’s mine.
I’m playing with Lucy Bellwood’s book 100 Demon Dialogues. I keep going back to cartoon number 83. In the cartoon, Lucy says, “I think I’ve figured it out: you’re more afraid of success than you are of failure.” Her demon, who is trying to hide in a box, says, “I’m afraid of EVERYTHING.”
I am afraid of success. When I succeed in my art or my writing, I am not sure what to do. What should happen next I can never figure out.
Here is one example. When someone offers me praise, I don’t seem to hear it. The words don’t go all the way in. I feel happy, briefly. I smile, say thank you, glad you enjoy it. Then I feel uncomfortable and need to escape.
It makes me sad to realize I am unable to wholly accept a kind comment. It makes me feel there’s something wrong with me, that I can’t celebrate something I have created when it touches and connects with someone else.
Weird thing is, this is one of the main reasons I write and draw, to create that heart-to-heart connection.
It’s easy, in my studio, to open my heart and be vulnerable as I create. My studio is a safe place, I am alone with my work, and I trust myself to go as deep as the work requires. If I don’t get there the first attempt, or second or third, I keep going until I reach the feeling I want. I’ve done this long enough, I trust what shows up and trust I am able.
Put me in the situation of accepting praise face to face, and I am in fear. Someone connects with my writing or drawing, it evokes something for them, they appreciate the experience, and they want me to know my work succeeded in touching them.
My deepest success, and yet I am afraid to open my heart to this person and feel what they are offering me. Instead I feel naked and vulnerable because someone has seen the feelings I place in my work. How ironic when someone really sees my work and connects heart to heart, I want to run the other way.
My deepest success and my deepest fear. I got this wrong. I’m not afraid of success. I’m afraid of being seen and connecting at my truest self.
I am an artist and a writer who creates heart to heart. I know no other way to create. I refuse to allow any kind of fear to stop me.
Next time someone praises my work, I need to remember who I am in my studio. Trusting, open-hearted, and reaching for connection as many times as it takes.
My Mom worked at home. Three children, a husband on shift work, and a big house to care for. I remember her sitting at the kitchen table in the late afternoon, resting before beginning dinner preparations. Especially when my brother was a toddler roaring around the house, she looked worn through, and her day was still hours away from being finished.
She’d look at me and say, “My get-up-and-go got up and went.”
That’s exactly how I feel when I wake this morning. I had an excellent sleep, yet I feel worn out. I lie here, wondering what this is.
I don’t want to get up. I don’t want to start the day, even though my days are my own. I don’t feel like writing or drawing, unusual for me.
Wrapped and warm in my blankets, I let my mind wander, and then I understand.
I am emotionally exhausted.
I’ve been riding a roller coaster of grief and love, and it has worn me out. Worn me to the point of affecting my creativity.
My current creative projects are long ones, writing a book (years), and filling a sketchbook with drawings (months). Normally I love long projects. I enjoy the feelings of where I have been and where I am going, seeing how an idea expands, shifts, and finally fulfills itself and me.
Today, long is more than I can handle.
An idea pops in. How about shotgun creativity? Get the idea, aim, fire, done. Except, generally, firing a shotgun requires dealing with the resulting mess. Clean up is necessary. I live in a rural area. I know this.
How about creativity that is like laughter? Sudden. Surprising. A joyful explosion of fun and play. Nothing afterwards but feeling good.
Yes, this is my kind of creativity. Unexpected creativity that is joy.
I get out of bed and start my day. Eventually I am here at my studio table with my Mickey Mouse pencils and stack of loose leaf paper, writing.
Interesting that my get-up-and-go is back, and I know why.
I started exactly where I was, recognized and allowed my feelings to be what they were. I let my thoughts and imagination, and then my words, run where they would, no limits, no expectations. Whatever showed up was fine with me. With all this space to play, ideas showed up—shotgun creativity, and creativity like laughter.
Yesterday afternoon was warm and sunny, and I did not resist. I took myself, my writing, and an iced decaf latte, outside to the porch swing. I spent most of the afternoon writing backstory for my book, working out why my main character wants what she wants, and laying out her defining misbelief that constantly throws her off track.
Halfway through the writing, I sensed something was off track and it wasn’t the character I was writing about. It was me. Somehow I lost the main point and sent myself chasing words down a side track.
I completed the piece anyways, and ended it with “Rats, rats, rats, this is wrong!”
It is not lost on me that I went off track writing about my character’s misbelief that sends her off track.
Today I will go back.
Again, I will write about my character wanting what she wants, and her tricky misbelief. This time I will deliberately aim the writing in a different direction, and see where I end up. But first, I’m going to reread what I wrote yesterday. There may be a gem of an idea I overlooked, one that really does have a place in the story. Even if I see no gem, I will keep the draft of what I think is wrong stuff.
I keep my drafts because of what I learned and use all the time as an artist. Sometimes mistakes point me in a direction I had not considered, and sometimes it takes me a while to see it.
I keep my drafts, even the ones that seem wrong, because they tell me where I have been in the story, and they remind me of what wasn’t working and what I didn’t want. Been there, don’t have to go there again.
I keep my drafts because of my Dad. He told me once, when I was fourteen and suffering through a high school course I felt was useless, that everything I learn I will use at some point in my life. I listened, and the words stuck.
So here I am, choosing to find a use for my wrong-stuff-writing, instead of judging it a wasted writing session and tossing the pages. Even if I discover no gem in the words, it prompted my blog post for today, and that is gem enough.
In this post:
I am using the book Story Genius by Lisa Cron, Ten Speed Press, 2016, to guide me through my main character’s backstory. This book is definitely a gem. http://wiredforstory.com
A good friend came by today, a fellow artist who I see weekly in the Fall and Winter when I am living in my northern home. She’s on vacation at the moment, so we took our time. We talked, caught ourselves up on each other’s families and lives. We drank tea with lemon.
She told me of a painting she’s creating of the clouds of Jupiter, and a show coming up next month. I read her some of the back story I am writing for my book draft. Too quickly (isn’t it always) our visit was done. We hugged and said goodbye, and she left for the ferry.
My friends who paint and write are blessings in my life. More than a blessing, they are supports in my life. We trade inspiration and plans, questions and comments, successes and struggles. Our friendships are a safe space to play with our creative ideas, the ones only yet a glimmer or half-grown, as well as the ones ready for the world.
There is power in our relationships. I know I am a better artist and writer because of these women. I trust them to see what I have missed or hidden from myself, and ask me the questions that need asking. My images and words are clearer and more focussed because of these friendships. I am more courageous in what I create because I know they have my back and I have theirs.
Our visit today reminds me how essential and treasured time with friends is for me. Everything we talk of, families and art and writing, strengthens us, makes us laugh, soothes us. We help make each other whole.
Our visit today reminds me it is coming time to meet some new artist-writer friends here in my new home. Yes, find more kindred spirits, as Anne of Green Gables would say.
Thank you, Lynn and Kate. Thank you, Wren and Yvonka and Fran. You help me be the artist and writer I am.
There is a scene in ‘Aladdin’, one of my favourite Disney movies, that frequently rises in my mind.
Genie, in the shape of a large bee, is buzzing in Aladdin’s ear, “Be-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e yourself!” Aladdin is preparing to definitely not be himself as he talks with Princess Jasmine. In his mind, being himself is not good enough.
I understand this.
Much of my life I have been sure I am not good enough. I no longer believe this. Thus, my New Year’s Un-Resolution.
That’s it. Two words.
This is not the usual New Year’s resolution. I am not looking to improve myself. What I am doing is uncovering my authentic self.
Be Myself. All day long I ask, is this my choice or someone else’s? Is this my belief, expectation, value, judgment, idea, or someone else’s? What is true for me?
I use words to ask myself the question. I look for the answer in how I feel.
My heart tells me yes, this is me, this is mine. This feels right and true to me. Or no, not mine. This feels wrong and false to me.
I learn from everything and everyone around me.
Sometimes in the learning, I take on things that are not true for me.
Sometimes, it takes time for me to understand that a belief, expectation, value, judgment, or idea does not fit me. That is okay. Trying things out and experiencing what happens may be what I need. Sometimes I must know what I don’t want in order to know what I do want.
So here I am, eleven days into 2018, paying attention to who I really am and discovering what feels true to me. So far, mostly what I have discovered is that I have un-learning and un-choosing to do.
The ‘un’ in front of ‘resolution’ was a clue. Yeah, missed that.
No worries. Being Myself is a work in progress. I have all year long.