I’d studied a lot—an entire universe full of a lot—about *how to* write. But *not* writing was the truth of my writing experience. Not writing wasn’t the defining fact about me, thank goodness, or I wouldn’t be here. But I had unknowingly created a cluster of mis-perceptions about myself and writing that lived inside me as unappeasable ghosts, and left me struggling and over-thinking and not writing. I was tired of trying to figure out how to write. Tired of mentally struggling to make words up then pressure them onto a page only to later destroy them or leave them abandoned. I had lost the ability to write simply, with purpose and intent. When I determined to write again, I had a growing sense of how those internal perceptions operated inside me and manipulated me into not writing. But no matter how distorted my perceptions were, my experience of not writing was honest. It came as a wonderful surprise, a paradox really, that when I started exploring everything I was doing to not write, words came, and in a purposeful way, a way they hadn’t come before, and I wrote those words down. I took those purposeful words as a sign that this was it. Ether write this idea about not writing all the way to the end, or STFU already.
Will you tell us a bit about why was this an important project to you - in terms of writing and publishing?
In a word, aspiring. I couldn’t be an aspiring writer anymore. If Pinocchio was ever to be a real-boy writer—or in my case a real-girl writer—I needed reality instead of aspirations. I had wasted much of my sweet time trapped in aspiring: yearning, struggling, trying, coping—aspiring—to be a writer but never moving with purpose into the reality of a writer’s life. I had been kinda fake writing. Pretending in a way to be a writer, but unaware of my pretending. That’s why I loved Tagore’s poem about being lost in “stringing and unstringing your instrument instead of singing your song.” That’s aspiring. It’s being lost in an internal state of impending. I labeled myself an aspiring writer to pretend everything I was doing to further my desire to write was real, when it was just stringing and unstringing my instrument. And I think aspiring was the least shameful way I could publicly say I was a writer and not be a complete liar, even to myself. Inwardly though, aspiring was a way I kept myself safe. There was no risk of failure or success, or any discomfort at all, if all I did was aspire. I could continue to blame external circumstances for my inability to flourish creatively. So the truth was, I desperately needed reality, the inward effect of a real experience. This project is that real experience. To complete a project from first draft to publication moved me out of aspiring and gave me a real experience.
What was the most difficult part of writing this book?
Trust. Trust in my own capacity to create and trust in the unknown’s willingness to cooperate with me. Like her or not, Diana Gabaldon writes huge, detailed books, prolifically. And she does this prolific writing intuitively, in chunks without outlining, planning or knowing any of her story in advance. Years ago, shortly after her first “practice” book went bestseller, I emailed her and asked how she did this intuitive writing thingy. She responded by saying, “I trust. Objects, bits of situations, people appear in my sight and I write down what I see.” Upon which, my head imploded into a quagmire of green envy. Trust of that nature was and is the most difficult part of writing for me. I see Gabaldon’s comment as saying yes to her everyday inspiration. She trusts her second sight, so she says yes to the images that appear to her, trusting they will lead her to her story. I struggle to trust those intangible things so my tendency is to say no to what shows up for me. No, that image can’t be right, no that direction doesn’t feel right, no that word isn’t right. Nothing is happening, Oh no, that experience isn’t right. Denying my innate need to trust in myself, in the idea that something is there for me, waiting in the unknown is still the most difficult part of writing.
What was your favorite part about the process?
Errant thoughts. The unruly, unpredictable, disobedient thoughts or ideas that occasionally blinked in from somewhere and surprised me with their completely foreign take on things. The first time I noticed an errant thought, I panicked thinking I’d been invaded by will-o-wisps that were going to lure me “off script” and into places I would rather not go. Surprise! They were. My analytically trained intellect tends to block out anything that threatens its sense of safety and control, so some errant thought abruptly interrupting my usual mental imagination with some wack-a-doo, yet entirely sensible notion was initially unnerving. But now, they are my favorite part of writing. I’m so relieved when one shows up. They are like a signal, as sign there is some creative impulse reaching out to me beyond my personal thinking or my individual imagination. I like when they startle me with a new perception, or disrupt my habitual way of seeing old things. I’m grateful for that spontaneous flash of stuff I can’t make up using my imagination alone. I want them to like me. Now I do all kinds of errant thought rituals to entice them to show up, which of course never works on something errant. But having them has been an affirmation and my favorite part of writing this book.
What's your biggest takeaway?
Unclench. Start where I am now, and say yes to whatever wants to be written, something will come of it.
How to NOT Write a Book is now available on Amazon, and it is FREE to download April 23-25, 2017.