I offer here a post from 2009, brought back by popular demand. I was on sabbatical and working on my last book, Twelve Doors: Writing for Pleasure, Self-Expression, and Storytelling. And I was in a particularly low point of the process—wanting to quit really bad. My writing coach (and now my creative consultant) gave me some good advice that I need to be reminded of today. Maybe you do too.
An old and alluring fear returned this morning. Jeffrey Davis, writing coach extraordinaire, sent me edits of two chapters of the book I’m working on, and he recommended all kinds of changes. As I read his notes, I could actually feel the energy draining out of me—right through the bottom of my feet, prana leaking all over the floor. I felt weak and wondered if I needed food. I worked to hold back tears. Why the tears, I asked myself? What’s this about?
Maybe the generosity of the question brought the flood. I sobbed. Feelings: I’m not up to the task. I have nothing more to say. I don’t want to work this hard. I just can’t do it. I began to maneuver for an escape. I don’t have to write this book. Who would really care? Isn’t making pea soup enough? And the garden, isn’t that evidence of diligence?
I walked around the house, took clothes out of the dryer, considered a trip to the grocery store. My mind was scratchy; chaotic thought blocked any hope of clarity. I could see no quick fix to the writing and I wanted to quit. Just like I did in fifth grade when I’d get a new piano piece from my piano teacher, Mrs. Peacham. I’d sit on the piano bench, stare at the keys, and cry, “I can’t do it.” My mother would stand over me and make me proceed, one phrase at a time. The task seemed too large for my meager qualifications.
“What is the opposite of quitting?” Jeffrey asked.
I had to think for a while before I could answer, so committed was I to quitting, to releasing myself from the discomfort I was experiencing. I didn’t want to consider another option. But soon, my better self appeared, and I said, “If I remain devoted to the practice, I can get to the other side of this challenge.”
Jeffrey reminded me of this: I don’t need to go into the re-write with confidence; sometimes we have to pick up the pen and proceed fearfully. There must be another word for moving forward in fear. In the Shambhala Buddhist tradition they say, “Be bold, and mighty warriors will come to your aid.” Bring on the warriors, I say.
What fear do you need to walk into today?