When my son, Ray, was first learning to speak, there were so many new words each day – the syntax often fascinating and occasionally perverse. He also had a sophisticated sense of humor. He called his Winnie-the-Pooh bear “Pooh” and when I asked him the name of his favorite teddy bear, he grinned and said “Pee.” Nice.
I wonder if one reason kids are able to learn so rapidly is because everything is approached as play. They are not beset with adult concerns, and therefore they are relaxed and curious. They are also utterly dependent, which is really the place we want to be as writers.
When we take our rightful place as channels, we become dependent on some mysterious force that guides our words. This might sound crazy, but stop for a moment and think about where your ideas come from. It’s a mystery. Our ideas come to us when we’re relaxed, typically in an alpha state – in the shower, or driving, or sitting quietly in our office. Our minds are resting and the idea that had been alluding us suddenly appears.
There’s a quote that’s been attributed to a dozen different writers: “Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.” Part of this refers to the act of stripping ourselves of our defenses. Picasso said, “It takes a long time to become young.” I think he is referring to the hard work of creating the emotional environment for our imagination to play.
Although it might feel frightening and even unnatural for some, being willing to drop our ego is a loving act. We all have defenses, and they’ve served their purpose, but as writers we must gently let them go. We live in a culture that doesn’t particularly understand or support this creative act. In fact, it can be threatening. Folks are more interested in how much money you got paid for your book advance, and if you sold the film rights. Movie reviewers no longer talk about films without mentioning its’ gross at the box office, with the tacit message that box office is a barometer of quality.
It is human nature to want a positive result, but in creative work it’s akin to digging up the seeds to see how the flower is growing. I spoke with a writer recently who had stopped writing because she was afraid that what she wrote would not be good. This is our dilemma. Our desire to write something great prevents us from writing something that lives.
As writers, the key to relaxing is letting go of the result. We must do this every morning – for the rest of our lives. Some days are better than others, but at some point we begin to recognize that writing is a practice, a way of staying connected to ourselves and others, and that our job is simply to build a body of work.