By Linda Seger, THD
There are certainly artists that begin every new project with great joy and anticipation. But there are some like me, who find joy in the idea but confront a real terror when it’s time to begin. I have now written 29 books – if you count all the editions – and whether there is a specific deadline from the publisher or simply my plan to begin, I confront that terror of taking the first step. I have learned over the years to accept the terror as part of my process. I remember the quote that the president of my seminary, Pacific School of Religion, told me when I received my ThD in 1976: “You know you’re on the way to the Promised Land by the fear that you feel when you take the first step.” It’s always great to know that the first step is toward The Promised Land, as opposed to a step into horror and misery.
I have learned over the years to do a few rituals to help me. I choose the date when I’ll begin my writing and I put it on my calendar. I tell myself that I will begin writing on that morning, whether I have anything to write about and even if I remain afraid. I learned when I wrote my first book (Making a Good Script Great) in 1987, that you can type even when you are scared and even when your hands are shaking. Sometimes I actually find I am led to begin the book ahead of time. But regardless of what I feel – I have a task to do and I get into the discipline.
I find the discipline becomes very important as a way to deal with the fear. I have written some books two mornings a week, usually from around 8-10 am. For some, I write for three – five mornings a week. I have also learned that I am clearly a morning writer and I should not even try to write after the clock strikes noon. That also helps me understand that the Muse is more apt to drop by in the mornings than other times. I do know afternoon writers and I know many writers and artists who work late into the evening – but I am not one of them.
I also have a number of readers give me feedback as I finish chapters. Their feedback helps me understand when I am soaring and when I am thudding. And I can then soar some more because I know that I’ve done it once and I can do it again.
I forestall evaluating my work because I know that the creative process has to have a flow and that judging it too quickly stops that flow. When I do start to evaluate, I don’t start with what’s wrong but I make circle around all the sentences or phrases where I feel good about my work. Sometimes it’s just a sentence or two out of fifteen pages and sometimes it just gets going by page 4 or so. Writing and art is about rewriting and redoing and once we can get into the habit that it will be fixed, it makes it so much easier. I have a saying, “If every sentence has not gone through at least 10 rewrites, it’s probably not yet good enough.”
And I have learned that there is so much to draw on – our experiences and thoughts and the rich words and the beautiful colors and the forms – we never start with nothing. In the beginning of Genesis, we are told the creation begins with formlessness and a void, and that we, as God did, shape and form. Some Creation Stories in other cultures and religions begin with chaos and antagonism and tensions and organizing that which is all tangled up and is a mess. Christian and Jewish theology begins with something that needs to find form and be shaped. It is a kind of Creative Goop that we can play with. It is a Calling. It beckons us to be innovative and to not be afraid to step out and begin.
And then somehow, we get into that process which is a Blessing and a Grace and which expresses ourselves and also expresses something deep within us, where we know not where it comes from. Those who are spiritual define that Source as God or the Holy Spirit or Infinite Positive Energy or the Love that makes everything new.