Thought for Day 16: Keep the Drama on the Page.

This was my favorite part of Julia Cameron’s THE RIGHT TO WRITE (which I am about to finish after I write this post). She says:

For a writer, personal drama is the drink of creative poison.  For a writer, the willing engagement in power struggles is an act of creative sabotage

(p. 41).

This is the truth.  We are living in world of crazy people–all people are crazy. It’s true! All people are self-absorbed. Especially artists. Especially talented ones. You included. Me included.  That doesn’t mean we have to contribute to the world’s craziness.  Our writing can and should bring order to this–help us process and perhaps contribute to the eradication of all hate and harm by acknowledging hate and harm, by getting a handle on it.  If you must act on drama, journal about it.  Save it for your characters’ conflicts.

We don’t have a choice about whether drama will get into our lives but we can learn how to deal with it before it takes over us and prevents us from writing. Here are three ways we can keep drama from interfering with our work:

1. Do our best to avoid it. 

We can start by being careful how we handle other people–especially in romantic/physical situations.  In all of our relationships, romantic or otherwise, avoiding drama looks like keeping other people’s best interests at heart. Pretty simple.  This doesn’t always work, though. People lie. People keep important information from us.  Even so, a lot of drama can be avoided if we go at the world with our best intentions.

2. Be aware of our own power trips.

Writing can help us acknowledge when we feel powerless.  Sometime we will. This is just going to happen.  But by acknowledging this, we can prevent ourselves from using whatever power we have  to harm others.

Do harm to your characters instead. It will make for a much more interesting story.

3. Rise above criticism.

People are going to say mean things to us, or mean things about our writing. Not all criticism is constructive.  But an important aspect of being a writer is having a thick enough skin to sort through criticism and pull out the constructive stuff.

4. Remember that people are time and energy.

Avoid the ones that waste your time and energy.  That doesn’t mean you have to be mean to them.  (See #1). Be respectful.  Love everyone. Even so, loving everyone doesn’t mean handing over your time and energy for them to sabotage it. Sometimes the most loving thing you can to for a person is to leave them alone to their own devices.  Loving someone sometimes means acknowledging that you can’t fix them. It means letting them learn how to fix themselves after you’ve treated them with your best intentions. Ultimately,  you choose who you spend time with and who you think about.

Got drama? Shake it off. Bring it to God, if you are prone to do such a thing. Acknowledge when you need to ask for forgiveness from folks.  Don’t expect anyone to apologize to you when they have hurt you. No matter what, know that you are bigger, more complex, more beautiful than whatever is trying to get in and sabotage your work.  Ultimately, we decide what to worship (what to give power to).

For more information, listen to David Foster Wallace’s speech to Kenyon College:

Thought for Day Eight of Revise the Novel Month: All We Need…

Writers say this all the time and when they say it, they are so right:

… writing is best broken down into a one-day-at-a-time, one-page-at-a-time process. We do not need the courage to write a whole novel.  We need the courage only to write on the novel today.  We do not need the courage to finish and publish the novel all in one fell swoop. All we need is the courage to do the next right thing.  Today’s pages may yield tomorrow’s editing job and next month’s design job, but just for today, all we need to do is write.

Julia Cameron, THE RIGHT TO WRITE (191).

For more information, read this again:

Thought for Day 7 of Revise the Novel Month: Selfless Ambition.

One of the most haunting quotes of all time for me is one Thom Yorke (of Radiohead) sings in “Paranoid Android”: Ambition makes you look pretty ugly.  Haunting and scary.  I don’t want to be ugly. I want to be pretty all the time. I also want to be ambitious. Actually, I can’t help but be ambitious.  I have a drive and I hate feeling like I’m in a lull.  A good friend used to tell me all the time that I have a motor. It’s true: I have a motor.  I suspect that if you call yourself a writer, part of that is because you have a motor, too.

Today I spent an hour doing an exercise in Julia Cameron’s THE RIGHT TO WRITE, where she recommends that you put on music that makes you feel adventurous (for me this was the Soundtrack to Amelie and a bunch of Elmore James, who makes me wiggle in a good way–I’m wiggling as I write this…).  Then you take ten minutes dreaming on the page about six areas of your life: Spirituality, Friendships, Living Space, Traveling/Adventure, Work Life, and Creative Projects.  All of this writing helped me come up to today’s thought:

There are two kinds of ambition: selfish ambition and selfless ambition.

Ambition is good.  It can’t be helped for some of us.  Some of us just have motors (and we remain ever envious of those who are content with simple lives).  I recognize my motor and I embrace it.  It’s what’s going to get me through this novel.  But I must make a choice as I go to work, as I let the motor propel my writing: I must choose selfless, over selfish ambition.

Selfish ambition means I want to be number one and I get pissed off when others pass me in the race to success. I shun the friends who are rewarded for their hard work.  I am angry because I deserved whatever reward they received–I am entitled to whatever they got.  I am bitter and I am depressed because everyone is passing me by.  I am stuck in despair over other people’s achievements.

Selfless ambition means I want my success to inspire people to strive for their own successes.  This means I live in constant congratulatory mode.  When my friends make achievements, I congratulate them.  I celebrate their success.  We are all on a team to make the world better.  We want our friends to produce the kind of work that delights and satisfies, that inspires readers/listeners/audience members to appreciate their lives, to stay curious.  We want our friends to put good writing out there and for that good writing to be recognized and appreciated.  We want our friends to be rewarded for their hard work.

Selfish ambition means I write only to satisfy myself.  I write for paychecks. I write for recognition. I write for revenge–everyone who overlooked my work will feel like the jackass they are when they see how fabulous my work has been all along.  I write to make people suffer while I work my way up the ladder.  I write with a hunger that will never be satisfied, though I convince myself that if I just have a book published, if I just get a tenure track job, then I will be satisfied.  I crush everyone along the way to these goals.

Selfless ambition means that I write in order to enlighten the world to whatever topics, people, and phenomenons that I discover during my writing process.  Ultimately, our creative projects are good for us and they are good for everyone else.  When people overlook my work, I work harder and do not despair.

I choose selfless ambition over selfish ambition because, I believe, it’s an answer to Thom Yorke’s observation in this here quote:

Recommended Reading: The Right to Write by Julia Cameron, Penguin: 1998