This morning I realized that I’m going to have to start over. Or rather, my second novel has to be tossed and I have to begin again. I’ve been trying to patch together the pieces for months. Maybe some of them will prove useful down the line. Maybe some of them can be recycled and reused and reformed. But now what I need to do is begin again, all over again. For a split second, the weight of despair was heavy. Months of work just evaporated. And then very quickly, my heart moved from mourning to excitement. A fresh start, a new beginning created by a new ending. This is the creative process. It takes time. It takes patience. You have to be willing to go back to the beginning, reset, and try again. That’s where I am today: at the edge of the cliff, and now I leap.
Dear ones, on freeeeezing days like today (windchill in NYC was 4 degrees this morning!) I make some hot beverages, hunker down at home, and engage in creative work as I dream of spring. How do you endure? (H/t Honschar for his inspiring street art.)
When people ask me if I have a writing partner, I say yes. And its name is sleep. They laugh even though I’m very serious.
When writing books, you must plant seeds early in the story that won’t take root until much later. Like a thoroughly knotted necklace chain, these seeds and how they come to life can be incredibly gnarly problems to untangle. Some seem completely impossible.
Whenever I hit a snag, I try to write my way through it or I make lists of solutions. Most of the time neither of these two actions work.
Then I’ll try research. That doesn’t usually provide a solution to my plot challenge at-hand either though it often leads me to interesting discoveries that I use elsewhere in the book.
You know what really helps? Going to sleep and not thinking about the problem. I go to sleep imagining myself in one of three scenarios: diving off a cliff in the Grand Canyon and flying instead of falling, swimming up to a whale in the deep sea (for years this whale has shown up in my dreams whenever I’m feeling particularly in need of comfort), or scuba diving through a kelp forest meeting all kinds of friendly sea creatures.
This happened to me last night (and it was the kelp forest for the win!) I’ve had a looming problem in my second Emerson Page book that I just couldn’t solve. It’s actually THE looming problem: the explanation of the key action that drives Emerson’s entire journey in the second book which leads to the basis for the third, and final, book in the series. It’s been a frustrating problem to solve because none of the resolutions I wrote felt right nor good enough because honestly, they were all terrible.
I woke up much too early this morning. Looking at the ceiling, there was the answer seated comfortably in my mind as if it had been there the whole time just waiting for me to see it. It was so much simpler than I realized. I wrote it down in three short paragraphs in the early light of morning just now.
The relief I feel this morning is immense, like dropping a heavy weight that’s been on my shoulders for years. It’s like solving a terrible problem in a relationship that’s prevented the relationship from moving forward. Finally lifted when I least expected it, I can just get back to the joy of living in this world I made and writing my way through it.
If you want to really know me, listen to this interview. The big question for me in this lifetime is, “Does everything matter or does nothing matter?” A few months ago, I gave the most personal interview I’ve ever done. My friend, mentor, and storytelling hero, John Bucher, introduced me to Josh Chambers and Leiv Parton, hosts and producer of the podcast, How Humans Change. My interview is now live. our wide-ranging conversation includes career, science, sustainability, the health of the planet, biomimicry, dinosaurs, product development, therapy, curiosity, change, the economy and capitalism, time, technology, work, culture, implicit bias, life-changing moments, storytelling, writing, poverty, trauma, writing, my book, mental health, strength, resilience, therapy, fear, courage, my apartment building fire, how my plane got struck by lightning, and so much more. Despite these dark topics, there is a lot of light, fun, laughter, and healing in this interview. It’s the most personal interview I’ve ever given, and some of the details I reveal about my personal path and past I have never discussed publicly before now. I hope you enjoy the podcast episode and that it inspires you to live the best life you can imagine.
My friend, Dan, recently asked me if I would bring back my monthly newsletter because his social media feeds are overwhelmed. And because I love Dan and because I have a lot of fun creative projects happening, I’m doing it! It’ll be filled with my fun shenanigans like my storytelling shows, my book and journalism work, my travels, podcast interviews I do, various creative projects like my museum work, and plenty of inspiration and resources to help you with your creative work! If you’d like to sign up, just like this post or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. The newsletter will only be once a month (at about the 1st of the month) and this list will never be used for any other purposes so no spam worries.
“The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep.” ~Rumi
When everything’s quiet, late at night and early in the morning, there’s a magic time when anything we dream with raw creativity and hope. That’s when I write, when I’m fearless.
For a few weeks, I’ve been turning over ideas in my mind for a new live show I’m creating and co-producing. I did a lot of research just to feel like I was moving forward even though I was spinning. Not a single original idea was coming to mind.
So I finally did the hard work that I do any time I feel stuck in my writing. I wrote. I wrote down a load of really horrible, boring ideas. And I knew they were horrible and boring but I just kept going anyway. And finally, slowly, bit by bit, the ideas started to get a little better. And then a lot better. And then I had a whole plan cooked up for this live show. And this was a very good lesson.
As artists, the only way to make art is to just make it. Even if it’s awful, it’s part of the journey. Thinking about art doesn’t create it. Roll up your sleeves, put aside your inner judge and jury, and dive in. Make something. The only way to take a journey is with one foot in front of the other.
“How did you know what to write about that would sell?” someone asked me this week.
“I didn’t write a book that would sell,” I said. “I wrote the book I wanted to read.”
“But didn’t you look at trends?” he asked me.
“I started writing my book eight years ago,” I said. “Trends from eight years ago wouldn’t have helped me today.”
He was frustrated. He wanted a silver bullet, and there just isn’t one when it comes to any kind of creative work. All you can do is follow your curiosity, do your research, listen, and then get it all down as well and as honestly as you can.
You absolutely cannot make everyone happy. Some people will want the book to go faster, and others will want it to go slower. Some people will want more detail, and others will want less. Some people will say the book is too long while others will stay it’s too short. It’s all incredibly subjective.
Just know this—over the course of writing, rewriting, editing, and publishing your work, you will read / view / listen to it dozens of times. Maybe hundreds of time. You have to nurture it, love it, and then give it all away for someone else to interpret. That is the rub of creative work—you pour everything you have into it, and then it belongs to the world. It is all a labor of love.
“The world is full of magic things patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” ~W.B. Yeats
We are hungry for magic and wonder. It’s around us everyday. In the weather, in nature, plants and animals, in our own biochemistry, in every time period of history. We don’t need to look far for magic, for Kismet, for inspiration. We only need to look and listen more deeply. Finding magic can sometimes take work but it is always worth the effort. It’s the best use of time we could make. Once found, wonder’s gifts last a lifetime and usually don’t cost anything except the use of our own curiosity.
“The sign of intelligence is that you are constantly wondering. Idiots are always dead sure about every damn thing they are doing in their life.” ~Vasudev, Indian yogi and mystic
Doesn’t that quote make you smile? And doesn’t it make you smile even wider when you realize it was said by an Indian yogi and mystic. I always appreciate a no-BS policy. We are all guessing, all the time. I love nothing better than hearing someone I admire say that they’re still trying to figure out what they’re doing. I love that they keep trying new things, exploring, and putting themselves in the role of a beginner. There’s a lot of pressure in the world to be an expert, to only do what we’re sure of. We hate doubt, but doubt is the key to everything. It keeps us hungry and hustling. It causes us to keep learning. It sparks curiosity and inquiry. It gets us talking and connecting with others. Keep asking questions, of yourself and others, and know that being uncertain puts you in the best possible company.