I am in the sweet eye of the storm in the book writing process, that window of time after I’ve sent my manuscript to my editor but before she has sent it back. I had been writing with ferocious intensity for weeks upon weeks, and now there’s a gentle and gradual—and temporary—lift of deadlines.
After I’ve met a deadline, I spend a little time spinning, like I don’t know how to slow down and I kind of don’t know what to do with myself. I always tell myself with grand authority, “Perhaps today I shall think about nothing. That sounds inviting.” But shortly after that I remember that I know myself, and ‘thinking about nothing’ isn’t what I do. I am far more likely to think about everything.
In this sweet window of sitting up straight and finding myself again, I’m listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast called Magic Lessons. It’s born from her book Big Magic, one of my favorite reads of 2015. Liz is a leading thinker on the intricacies of creating, the beauty of it all, and the courage to live and create fearlessly. In each of her sessions, she interviews an artist who is stuck in one way or another. Sometimes they are afraid to go public with their art, or afraid to tell their story out loud, or afraid they’re not good enough, or afraid of failing, or afraid of succeeding.
Most always, they are in one way or another paralyzed by fear.
She listens to them with so much compassion, and then she gives them a homework assignment to jumpstart their process. Then Liz consults with one of her colleagues in the field who’s already doing what this artist wants to do. Together, they lift the injured artist’s eyes to the sky, remind them that they matter and their work is valid, and they inspire new art to become.
Liz interviewed a young poet who had been denied acceptance to more than ten MFA programs. Ouch. This girl had done what so many of us fear: she put her work out there to be accepted or denied, and she was denied. Repeatedly.
Liz sought counsel from poet Mark Nepo. On the podcast, Mark said that one of the great interesting things about art is this: when someone recognizes an ability in us, they tell us “to become that.”
If someone hears you singing to yourself with pure loveliness, they say, “Oh, you should become a singer.”
If you express yourself well, someone says, “You should be a writer.”
When they see what you’re good at, they say, “You should be a _______.”
Mark says, “The world tells you to become a noun. And the vitality of life is in staying a verb.”
The truth is that you already are that, because you’re already doing that. The world tells you to become what you’re already doing. But that’s because the world is most comfortable with nouns. They want to turn you into a noun, when the truth is that you are a verb.
She said, “Don’t get so busy preparing for your life as a writer that you forget to write.”
Which is ironic, since in my case, the verb is the noun. (How I love to play with words.)
(Whatever you’re doing today, be a verb. It’s where the good stuff is.)