Getting hurt is part of living, and the resultant healing the MOST natural evolution of life – which goes to the idea of balance in life. This is critical for writers or anyone who is contemplating a redesign of your life.
THERE IS A PERFECT METAPHOR FOR THIS CONCEPT: EXERCISE
Think about the process of exercise, fitness, conditioning; all of which are based upon hurting the body so that when it heals we are better prepared to handle the next hurtful conditioning. Many suggest also that the optimum challenge for conditioning is at about 70% – a level of exertion that is higher than the status quo but not enough to do damage to the body. Exercising at 100% capacity is a 100% guarantee your body will break down. Professional athletes exercise at greater than 70% because they demand more immediately in their profession. They are trading off injury for immediate gain in ability. There is an axiom in many sports about going “all out!” Going all out is not wise for the long haul because there is no balance.
If getting hurt is natural, and we understand the physical side of the concept, then we must not forget the mental side of getting hurt, because we do get hurt. The healing process is what makes us stronger and better able to handle that level of hurt. Getting hurt in romance, is a must for getting stronger in living and understanding relationships. It therefore must also follow that a writer’s rejection is a necessary part of getting better at our craft. It is hard to think of rejection slips as a daily exercise, because it is very much a part of how we see ourselves; whereas, we don’t think of muscle fatigue as a slight or personal attack.
Interesting how balance in life – all aspects of life – can become confused with ego! We accept the pain of muscle fatigue in the gym, but view a criticism of our writing as an attack on our individuality and value. IF there is nothing wrong with fatigue from a spin class, why should anything be wrong with a criticism of our most recent writing.
AT THE HEART
This goes to the heart of this site’s reason for existing: the intersection of intention and reality. We must accept the jarring collisions that might occur at this intersection with the wisdom to recognize that this belongs to the balance of life which instructs us how and when to use the tools we have to maintain that balance, or harmony, thereby presenting the most promising opportunities for discovery and growth.
This is not – I repeat – this is not a call to seek injury! There is a balance between caution and bold action that will remove fear from our lives. Reckless abandon is the 100% level guaranteed to produce bodily harm, as noted above. Furthermore, seeking injury is a mindset that is narrow, and because it is so focused, usually results in some level of success! Allowing mind and body to work together at about 70% allows for a harmonious discovery of who we are, really.
As remarkable as this may seem, Yogi Berra is a writing guru who has helped me solve a thorny problem of perspective.
I’m not by nature lazy; although, I can fall prey to bouts of procrastination. The former is a potentially serious behavioral issue, the latter symptomatic of a fear or problem not yet faced. There is a difference. I think I recognize the difference between the two attitudes, and feel safe in my assertion that I am not lazy. I have been forced on occasion to do some heavy lifting on my own, and was more than capable of carrying the load, one foot in front of the other, gutting it out, doing what was necessary. Based upon these experiences I allow myself to assert that I am not lazy.
A recent change in tack, and I’m here referring to the sailing vernacular, is one in which I have endeavored to reinvent myself as a writer, a course that has produced a different kind of procrastination, a different specie of sitting on my duff, and until recently, I have not found a solution for this brand of sitting on one’s duff. I don’t mind saying I feel rather like a “duffus” – a term we used to describe ineptitude when I was young – and for falling prey to this malady.
WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW. WRITE FOR YOURSELF.
Stories are about problem solving. Stories tell us how to live our lives. Show don’t tell. Conflict – a world turned upside down. A Heroes Quest. Story arc. Character arc. Three act. Four act. The terminology is dizzying. Through it all it seems to me that what makes a story is a crack in the narrative, story plus emotion, a moment of realization, internal and external conflict. We are hardwired for rising expectations and questions. The unsolved, the unanswerable is intriguing to us. We need to know more.
Consider this: I recently watched a documentary on the Kamikaze pilots of Japan. The entire undertaking was a terrible waste of men and machine, but it did give the Alies pause, and perhaps more than anything else convinced military leadership that the atomic bomb would really save lives. It was fairly interesting, as documentaries go, until the very end, when something irresistibly powerful grabbed my imagination. Can you possibly imagine what could be that powerful…?
I suspect I have your attention!
Near the end of the documentary, when Japan is about to capitulate, the commander of the Kamikaze squadrons is devastated by his failure to cripple the allied aircraft carriers and thereby crack the air-superiority of the Allies, and perhaps forestalling an invasion of the homeland. The Kamikaze flights are cancelled. There is a side bar on one young pilot who was in his plane, having made his final goodbyes to wife and family night before, was sitting in his plane waiting for takeoff when the flight was cancelled. Ho-hum.
The commander of the Kamikaze’s – whose name I do not remember – asks for volunteers to accompany him on one last attack on Allied ships at Okinawa. There are approximately twenty-four volunteers. The next morning they take off for one last historic face-saving, ancestor-honoring attack on Allied ships; but, they never arrive, never attack the ships, and are never heard from again!
I SAT STRAIGHT UP IN MY CHAIR.
There’s a story! I watched almost ninety-minutes of this video without being really moved until this moment – a crack in the narrative – that raises more questions than were answered in the previous sixty-minutes. This is very much akin to seeing a multiple car wreck on the highway and trying to resist the need to look, to see, to know, to discover what rising action is unfolding. You can’t. That was it. That was story telling hook writ large. The only interesting narrative in the whole piece and it’s abandoned for final credits!
What does this have to do with getting off my proverbial duff?
First, I have heard the adage “Never let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” It is a most alluring trap, this need to get it exactly right, to be perfect in your telling of the most important story ever – the one you’re writing at the moment. I have spent years, literally, working on a story that is more than a good idea, but finding the right way to tell the story has given me fits of frustration. It had to be perfect in its shape. The more perfect I attempted to shape its contours the more vapid it became – vapid is probably too harsh; but, I can say that of my work. I have put that project on the shelf on two occasions, and its not yet finished. Sometimes, an idea is just that – an idea, even a powerful idea. An idea does not a story make.
THE INTERNET IS OVERRUN WITH SELF-HELP GURUS of all stripes, some are incredibly perceptive and inspiring, others are somewhat jaundiced in their perspective. I have watched seminars, read papers and newsletters of all brands that claim to have the silver bullet for crafting and selling your book. The DIY phenomenon is a remarkable development.
One recent seminar I listened to claimed to have the formula for writing and publishing a book in one week. This I had to hear. It’s true that one could achieve the publication of a book in that amount of time; the likelihood of creating a profitable book is something else. Still I listened to the process. His first step was to find a need that hurts, or scratch your own itch. I have been well-schooled in the philosophy of write what you know, and write for yourself.
I DISCOVERED AN IMMEDIATE CONTRADICTION for me, one which I had not given time to consider at all. His starting point was writing for profit, that is, his principal goal is to sell books, in which case writing what you know may not be shared by a lot of people – maybe no more than 10 or 20! There’s not much profit there. Therefore, finding a need that hurts, or an itch that itches makes brilliant sense. It’s also well expressed metaphorically as a need that hurts. The remaining steps to publication were fairly standard and not especially remarkable save for the mentioned resources needed to handle this lightening speed.
I soon discovered that finding the need that hurts was also a charming trap, much like the perfect anything. Laziness is one thing; but, procrastination is quite another. Laziness might well be damning, and for many people irreversible; but, procrastination, I have learned, is symptomatic of a deeper issue, a deeper fear. There is a cure, however, and I will share that cure with you today. The cure is curtesy Yogi Berra!
That’s right. The New York Yankee Hall of Fame catcher… and sometime humorist.
THERE ARE TWO BERRA-ISMS THAT ARE PARTICULARLY TELLING.
The first is “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.” It is the somewhere else that we should remain open to and receptive to in our journey. Once again, holding on to the perfect when discovered alternatives might be light years ahead in relevance, interest, and marketability are trumpeting a sea-nymph’s call to adventure, if however slight and distant. We have to listen as writers. Or, as Yogie would say, “You can observe a lot by just watching.”
The second writing tip from Yogi is this: “Think! How the hell are you gonna think and hit at the same time?”
I have laughed at his remark on many occasions, but Yogi will have the last laugh because it’s basically very true. Think too much and you will end up in trouble. Think too much before the pitch and you’ll be frozen when it happens. Think too much after the pitch and the next will catch you off guard. Hitting is instinctual. Writing is our life turned instinctual, where connections are born on the fly and incubated over time. The impulse to create is born of a moment with attendant references and connections that are produced only by an emotional and internal confict.
MY SOLUTION TO MY MALAISE IS NOT TO THINK.
My job is not to create a need that hurts, but to discover the need that hurts, and who am I to say what needs have a threshold of pain that reverberates across the greatest numbers of people. It’s a road trip. You have a destination in mind, but along the way you will discover the need that hurts among the greatest number of people and then mastering that discovered need after mastering who you are, connections are made across many ideas that just might develop into one remarkable story.
THAT’S WHERE I AM
I must no longer worry about that need that hurts, I’ll find it if I dig. Ben Hogan was fond of saying that he dug his game out of the ground. His practice ethic was legendary, as was the flight of his ball, the movement of his shot. I’ve read that one can not understand unless you saw it. Dig your story out of the ground. Don’t look for a specific story with laser focus, be ready to find a crack in the narrative that grabs and continues to raise questions that demand answers.
I’ve discovered this today while writing and reading. This post has been dug from the ground, and it’s only fitting that we close with another writing tip from the narrative master, Yogi Berra: “I want to thank you for making this day necessary.” — On Yogi Berra Appreciation Day in St. Louis in 1947.
Someone who thinks logically makes a nice contrast to the real world. And you needn’t worry about what people think because they don’t do it very often. Thinking. Two Scotch witticisms that are especially useful today when I discover yet again that writing is actually thinking.
You might say it’s writer’s block in disguise. It’s not that there is some obstacle confronting our writer’s brain that makes us unable to write. It’s not a block at all; it’s simply the absence of thinking.
I must admit that writing, or the process of writing, which exists somewhere in the recesses of my brain has this finite coat of armor that seems to suggest it springs full-born when the writer takes a pen in hand or fingers to a keyboard, and rejects any notion that it could be otherwise. I allow this silly thought to permeate my brain, inculcating it with a poisonous mask guaranteed to stall whatever juices are moved by the muse. Surely, I am well aware that writing is rewriting, and all that attendant author baggage. We are a mass of contradictions, every one of us; it should not surprise me.
If I think that writing is thinking – which is surely true – then there is no pressure to write because I’m thinking – thinking on paper, on screen, on point, target, whatever the on might be. The point is it’s an action that takes place in this moment and is something upon which I can build. No writing; no thinking. There’s your writer’s block! It’s a failure to generate thinking, not writing. The writing is a handy tool for making these thoughts visible and tangible for consideration and refinement. Unspecified thoughts floating about the brain fall into the category of dreams; you know, the stuff of filmy, gauzy, transparencies that evaporate with the slightest distraction.
Think out loud. Think on paper, on screen, on paper bags if necessary, and writing has the potential to materializes; not full-blown but begging for refinement, shaping, and pleading for us to enter the realm of thought to leave our unique imprint. After much thinking, and only after much thinking, does writing truly spring full-blown upon the page. It’s the ubiquitous over-night success on Broadway!
I know that writer’s block is a crutch, it’s a warning sign in the Writer’s Storm, a none too subtle hint that thinking has left the building. If we simply think about what we are writing and not create by magical conjuring, our hearts will be rewarded.
It is amazing how transparent these ideas are when finally grasped. I know Writer’s Block is a crutch, an easement, a stalling tactic, a mental illness needed to justify our unwillingness to think. I’ve known it but never admitted it!
Happy thinking! And let me know about the full-blown ideas that emerge…
Recent events provoked me to question my passion, my desire to do what I purport to be necessary, and I wrote about that issue last week. It will not go away!
Last time, I challenged my desire for success in comparison to what others are willing to do, and do in pursuit of their goals. The desire to achieve regardless of obstacles is oxymoronic; of course, it’s necessary. It’s easy to succumb to an obstacle; rationalization is a sneaky devil, one which never attacks when the writer is in full throttle. No, it’s waits for the smallest of openings to begin its subversive magic, multiplying with the veracity of vicious cancer. Recognizing those early openings becomes essential. A word about that later.
WHAT BESTIRS THE HEART?
My son, a professional photographer, spoke to me of a celebrated photographer – I can’t recall the name – and quoted the man as having said: “I’m not that talented, actually. I just work hard.” I’m equally familiar, as you, with that mantra. I’ve heard it voiced since I was a kid.
The better question might be “What stirs my heart?” Can it play to my writing? In what way?
There are several things that stir my blood, elevate my blood pressure, or cause me to pace and begin an internal monologue of fire and venom. One such catalyst is social injustice, the other being sports. This is not to suggest that my family’s well-being or safety does not motivate me; it does. I am addressing my creative life.
Many people might find these two catalysts unusual in their juxtaposition. I don’t. Sports reflect our social world, so it is for me reasonable that these two phenomenons should “trip my trigger.”
THE NEWS JUNKIE
I am admittedly a news junkie, either consuming televised news reports, or reading newspaper accounts all the time. I shall also admit another source of news: Facebook. Facebook is a cesspool. Choirs preaching to the choirs with an amazing lack of civility, thought, and logic. I have enough friends and acquaintances on both sides of every issue that I am continually seeing passionate beliefs from both sides. What is instructive in Facebook is the level of venom and stiff-arm tactics from both sides. Nobody engages, all simply lob talking points that are not debatable. They are not debatable because of how they are phrased. If the statements contain an indictment they are not debatable! My take-a-way is that we are short on civil discourse and alarmingly lacking in willingness to engage. It takes great restraint for me to refrain from commenting on Facebook. There are no reasonable discussions to be had with the opposing choir! So, Facebook is actually sobering.
Suffice it to say politics boils my blood, especially when there is something I perceive as a social injustice, stupidity, or a failure to understand history. My book has evolved into a political statement of sorts. But, it is still difficult to write, remain true to the premise, and not make it preachy. This is difficult to do, as well. I’ve never tried to write a sports story…
With regard to sports, I love the storylines of sports. Watching the recent Wimbledon finals, the match between Djokovic and Federer was the quintessential distillation of all I mean to discuss today. Both men are passionate in their pursuit of a Wimbledon Championship, both men are talented and playing well. My personal favorite was Federer because it would have been an amazing achievement for a man 34 years of age – old in tennis-speak. People have written Federer off for the past year, but he has roared back with a dance on the court. Federer Turns Back the Clock, read the headlines.
THE FINAL ARBITRATOR
Nobody beats time. Djokovic proved the better player today. Roger won something in a manner of speaking because he made it to the finals of Wimbledon yet again, but was turned back again in the finals by the same opponent of a year ago. I’m a sucker for the sports underdog, or the champion who does it right – ethics again.
Still time is the ultimate arbitrator – alliteration between arbitrator and traitor is too much to pass up. Time betrays us all, and perhaps time wins out over all the dedication, hard work, and passion we can muster.
So, if these things, politics and sports, seem to pull my strings, excite my passion, give rise to energy of action, I should try to utilize those two elements in my writing – simple enough, unless the real wall is time. No matter how much you may want, if there’s no energy to act… you’re screwed!
I mentioned earlier a return to a comment about aware of that creeping disease of rationalization. The one personal method I have used with some success to avoid the insidious encroachment has been meditation. Meditating twice a day, early morning and before going to bed, has helped maintain a healthy frame of mind and enable me to keep the real priorities firmly in the forefront of my mind. I recommend the use of meditation.
BURNISH YOUR HEART
Where time is concerned, I have no other choice but to try and burnish my mind with resolve, ala Djokovic, and try to ignore the fact that his resolve defeated Federer, who probably just ran out of gas… Still we can find some measure of burnishing for the heart when we realize that while Rodger lost the Men’s Singles Championship at the Cathedral of Tennis, he nonetheless played in the finals. So, I may never be a run-a-way NYT Best Seller, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be published and read with respect.
There is something on which to meditate!
Since you have read this far, I shall offer a bonus: The following is a voice recording of yours truly reading one of his short stories. This particular story is a favorite of my son who thinks it cries out for development into something larger. It is my one and only venture into science fiction.