A few months ago I read this book. I enjoyed it; read it in a weekend I think. I identified with a good amount of it, but there was also some stuff that just - I don’t know - didn’t sit right.
You’ve had that experience, right? I mean, not with my writing, of course, but surely with someone else’s. Like they offer this idea and you’re like no man, that can’t be right, but you just can’t seem to put your finger on why you think that?
I had that.
The author was describing how this friend who wanted to write a book came to her and asked how she got in the mood to write - did she have a special place for instance? - and she was telling us, the readers, how sad she was for this friend because he would never write a book. He would never write a book, she said, because to write a book you had to be in control.
“No outside factor is going to make you more productive, and if you need a certain atmosphere to be at your best, you’re not truly in control of yourself…[T]he key is to create an environment that can get you into the zone wherever you happen to be…any kind of repetitious cue you can give to your brain that it's time to focus.”
Which now reading again, seems a bit contradictory, but whatever, I read this then and felt crushed. Crushed because this meant I would never write a book.
I cannot force myself to write.
I write from experience and experience just has to happen; you can’t predict it. I don’t have control over when and where ideas will strike and I certainly don’t have control over when I’ll feel inspired to write about it. I write when I have something to say.
I mean, when I’m in a dreary moment, the last thing I want to do is think about its upside; to analyze what I think about it, how I feel about it, or what I can learn from it. All I’m really thinking about is getting through it.
I also might write - as I am here - about something I happened to read. An article or a quote or an idea or something just lands and I can’t stop thinking about it; like a popcorn kernel lodged in your throat. Or, if you prefer more positive imagery, like a seed that takes root.
In any case, it takes time to develop.
So two things, I think, really bother me about this passage.
First, just because she’s written a book and I have not, does not mean she knows the only right way to do it. Maybe it takes me twice as long, maybe I only write one book in my whole life, but you know what? She doesn’t get to decide how it’s going to happen.
Think of the many millions of books that have been written in the whole history of people writing books and ask yourself did every single one of them get written by exactly the same process? Of course not, you would answer, the very idea of it is loony toons.
Second, is that - and this is a tough one - we are never truly in control of ourselves. We cannot control our emotions, our motivations, or our thoughts. We can try our best to recognize them, understand them, and to react to them in ways that are accordant with who we want to be, but we cannot control them.
And quite frankly, I fear the amount of worry and anxiety and awfulness we create for ourselves when we perpetuate the myth that we can.
But wait! Don't despair! Instead, let me leave you with this: sometimes it’s the best stuff that happens when we learn to loosen our grip on this myth called control and just let life unfold.