You may be old enough to remember the granddaddy of shows like Firing Line: on Point/Counterpoint, two old guys squared off every week over a current issue. Nowadays the shows don’t bother to have Counterpoint take part in the argument, but I was reminded of the old format when I think of two sources of advice for creative types that I’m finding helpful.
Bob Mayer’s The Novel Writer’s Toolkit is one of the most reassuring tomes I’ve ever read about how to tackle the sprawling project of writing a novel. The advice is considerably more specific (good grief, the number of books that have made it into print that tell you “now write the middle”), but the summary is, take a step. Deep breath. Take the next step. The next. Eventually you get to the destination. Lately I have to start chanting my mantra when he gets to the parts about hunting down editors and putting together your PR plan, but that’s there too in nice, doable, non-Tolstoy-esque chunks.
Mayer also writes novels—about Special Forces missions, alien invasions, and romances in collaboration with Jennifer Crusie—and he’s gotten advice lately about refining his publicity efforts to make his platform—the authorial expertise he’s selling with a story—more specific. So he’s capitalizing on his former career as a Green Beret and titled his next book about writing Who Dares Wins: The Green Beret Way for You to Conquer Fear and Succeed. Mayer has taken some of the principles of training and mission planning used by Special Forces and reconfigured them as writing advice. Not only is it helpful, but you get to parallel your goal setting with, say, the Allied invasion of Sicily (and holy cats, there’s a jaw-dropping yarn).
There were times when being able to write meant winding myself into as drama queenish a zone as I could sustain in the time frame. Is it the same nerves firing to be calmed by the advice to face my fears like a paratrooper getting ready to jump? (Ramp down—light green—write!)
Havi Brooks is tired of the pull-yer-socks-up-and-FIGHT school of behavior change. She is a life coach (although she doesn’t like that term either) and addresses her advice to creative people more generally, not just writers. Like Mayer, she has an extensive blog and workshop schedule.
The short version of her message is acknowledge your reaction and allow yourself to respond, roll around in it for a while. She goes farther than breaking a task into small steps: if you’re really overwhelmed, go ahead and go back to bed (Hoo-ya!). When you’re ready, just do one thing. Take a breath, monitor what you’re feeling, and then do one thing—don’t add the pressure of the next thing, or (good grief, are we cured already?) finishing. Just accomplish the one thing and then take another breath to see where you are now.
On one level I find this advice hippy-dippy: it’s all well and good to give yourself permission to hide in bed until you feel you can face the day, but the mortgage company is just not on that timetable. And I have kids, for crying out loud! On some level, Brooks thinks this too: in one of her posts about affirmations, she says, “Think of a phrase that doesn’t make you roll your eyes.”
But there’s another level where her way of stating things is a bone-lightening relief. If I don’t have to do it, then why am I? Oh, right, because it’s fun—or because it keeps a roof over my head, or because I want that sundress, or . . . but I am not longer in a rut, merely reacting. If I do have to do it, what would make it better? And then do some yoga to get your body back in balance and then we can all make beautiful art. She’s got a great blog where she talks about a wide range of issues and responses.
P.S. Raves aside, I don’t follow Mayer’s or Brooks’s procedures, such as they are, precisely. They both have a logical whole, but some bits fit my life and brain better than others.
P.P.S. Although I continue to be fascinated by these kinds of books, I haven’t been reading many lately because I’m too busy writing. Fear, doubt, and guilt are reminder breezes these days rather than paralyzing gales.