Zen mind, writer’s mind

Y’know, I was ready for this to be Buddhism Week, Chez Rachel. I had that dog koan, and then the last few mornings I’ve begun meditating again (I do want to talk about that sometime – I highly recommend it for preventing panic in the face of giant to-do lists). But yesterday I also had a good writing day, which reminded me of that thing I always forget until I’m in the throes of a new project:

My writer’s mind is comprised of three parts. Like tripartite Gaul, yes.

Each part has its own personality, and they are old, old friends by this point. Well, maybe “friends” isn’t quite the right word, but I’ve known these characters a long time and they always show up when I’m first-drafting (they disappear later, when I’m editing, because that’s apparently a different process).

When I start writing, the inside of my head turns into a John Hughes movie. There are three characters – the Bully, the Stoner, and Little Miss Perfect – and they have apparently been assigned to do an English project together. The bulk of the work, as you might expect, falls to Little Miss Perfect. She has an excellent command of English, but alas she is a fierce perfectionist who has no imagination. Left to her own devices, she would sit there fiddling with the same three sentences until they were so devastatingly beautiful that… well, right. Sentences that beautiful do no one any good if she never completes the assignment. That’s what the Bully is for. She breathes down Little Miss Perfect’s neck, telling her she needs to keep writing, because if this assignment is late, the Bully will pound her into the ground.

Little Miss Perfect manages to keep writing and moving forward, in utter terror for her life, until she gets to the point where she can’t. Because she has no imagination, see. She gets stuck, and she starts to cry, and the Bully says mean, unhelpful things to her. Then, and only then, does the Stoner (who looks like young Judd Nelson) wake up and utter the craziest, most pyrotechnically brilliant idea anyone ever heard. Little Miss Perfect (who secretly has a crush on the Stoner) gets it down on paper and starts obsessively making it beautiful and perfect.

Then the Stoner laughs his ass off, eats Cheetos, and falls back asleep so that the cycle might begin again.

Every time I begin, this drama surprises me anew. I don’t know why I forget it so completely, but I suspect it has to do with all the parts being necessary, even the frustration. If I remembered right off the bat that the Stoner would eventually wake up, I would either sit around waiting for him to be funny (and getting nothing done in the meantime), or I’d start poking him with a stick.

I’ve tried that. It doesn’t work. He can’t be coerced.

What this process requires, absurdly, is faith. I have to trust that some deep, barely accessible part of my mind is smarter than I am, that it’s working on the answers, and that it will come through for me. I can’t just sit around and wait for it,  though; I have to do my part and work. Even the Bully, mean though she is, is necessary. Nothing would get done without her. I have to trust that too, even while my frustration levels rise. The frustration is good and right. Judd Nelson should be waking up any minute now.

It all works best when I don’t fight it or try to manipulate it, when I let all the parts do what they need to do. Stuff gets written, the project moves forward, and I look down at what I just did and say, “Holy crap, where did THAT come from?”

4 thoughts on “Zen mind, writer’s mind

  1. Even though I engage in short-form writing with my film blog and not long-form, I often feel pressure – coming from myself – to write something, anything, on a given day and to make it BRILLIANT. Because so much of what I write is based on personal observations and unique experiences as opposed to the workings of the film itself, I sometimes think whatever I come up with will be either a home run or a strikeout. I’m slowly but surely coming to the realization that I can settle for a ground-rule double if that’s what I produce that day.

  2. I actually wrote a whole paper for school about how my clique of friends and I fit the roles of “The Breakfast Club”, but your description of your “writing personalities” couldn’t explain better how I feel too! Us “creative types” need to be a bit schitzo to create the best product we can, because if we weren’t, everything in life would remain one dimensional and oh-so-boring. Great post!!!

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