The Writing Process : Playing with Tigers
From my sane self to my writer self:
My hope for us in 2017 is that we’ll incorporate self-kindness into our writing process.
Oh, please. Another thing I have to do? Just give me a 2017 calendar to keep track of when I avoid writing. And I just love it when people tell me how I should feel.
Self-kindness isn’t a feeling. Not a cotton-candy antidote to your scolding voice.
Hey, at least if I beat myself up, I know somebody cares about my writing. Right?
If you stop beating us up, would you stop caring?
Don’t try me.
(*sigh*) Okay, listen. Self-kindness has to do with discovering our own writing process. Not other peoples’. Ours.
You sound like a teacher. Which is annoying.
Shut up. I am a teacher. Don’t you feel lonely as a writer?
Look, writing is lonely. So find your tribe. Suppose history’s first story-tellers had gone off alone to scratch hunting stories in some isolated cave? Our ancestor Ogg would of never ended his tale of outwitting a saber-tooth tiger. Ogg would have kept chiseling away at his laptop, editing the passage where the tiger unleashes its beastly fury. Meanwhile the whole tribe took off for the South of France.
Ogg would have given up, not because his story wasn’t good, but because there was no one left to tell it to.
We write to be read. Not because we’re vain creatures who suck up praise, but because stories create our closest human bonds. But while Ogg would have known to pack it in and get out the GPS to locate the whereabouts of his tribe, we berate ourselves for being human. For feeling sad that isolation kills creativity. Only we don’t say that. Instead, we tell ourselves there’s something wrong with us because…
…Last week my dog died and I found out that my kids are drug dealers and there was a flood in my basement and my partner of twenty years left because she doesn’t like damp feet and I got laid off from my job. I handled all that pretty well. But I had ten minutes available to write between getting ditched and learning that I was fired, and I couldn’t bring myself to do anything. There’s something wrong with me. I must not be a writer after all.
Enough! Remember Ogg? One time he and his tribe spent three weeks getting rid of a saber tooth tiger that was harassing their pet mastodon. Ogg didn’t berate himself for taking the next few days off. He took care of himself! He had a good long sleep until he was ready to get up and tell the story.
Yeah, but our writing isn’t good enough. Ogg and company were too scared of tigers to care about anything else.
And we aren’t scared? Our tigers have just moved inside. Not indoors. Inside. If I give myself permission to listen to what’s inside, what if the tigers tell me I’m a fraud? What if they scare me so much I don’t want to write at all?
Exactly! If I start being kind to myself, I might not even try. Telling myself I should do better lets me know that there’s a grownup in charge (Me) who carries a big stick so someone (Little me) won’t run off and forget about writing because she’s having too much fun.
Writing is fun.
You didn’t hear me! Writing is hard work!
Actually, I was listening. Writing is about learning to work with your tigers. Real, scary tigers that we’ve been toting around since we were babies. But when they roll over and let you scratch their tummies, they’re adorable. What could be more fun than walking around with a tiger on a leash?
Maybe if there were some real grownups around, you wouldn’t be allowed to say that.
Hello? You know how old I am? And you’re no spring chicken, either. Which is my point. You + me = tribe. Isolation is what makes us give up; not lack of ability. Lack of talent never stopped anyone from doing anything.
I’m not sure that’s a compliment.
Hey, remember that ‘loser’ Ogg? He was famous for telling long-winded, repetitive stories. His plots didn’t resolve; they self-combusted. What isn’t known is that he actually invented the first-ever literary genre—the epic poem. The only reason we don’t know this is that everyone was too busy adapting Ogg’s material to their own mythologies to bother criticizing all the times he shouted, “Tiger at ten o’clock!” or note for posterity how he bored the whole tribe to sleep. He even bored the tigers to sleep, which made them easy to kill.
And that’s the real reason saber-tooth tigers became extinct. I’ve heard their fossils are used to make microchips.
Are you done?