I’ve been on a schedule since I was born. I’ve been check-marked and chore-charted and to-do-listed and deadlined every single day of my life. This is not all bad. I arrive on time. I hit deadlines before the deadline. I run a tight ship. I’m fit. I’m ready for the apocalypse.
But here’s the thing: you can’t force art.
Art doesn’t happen on schedule.
I’ve learned this the hard way. I can produce, yes. But it won’t be art. If I just churn out a book it will read like a stressed-out, check-marked, to-do list.
Being raised fundamentalist gave me good self-discipline. It also gave me self-abnegation. Which is to say, when the self-discipline doesn’t work anymore, you just try harder. You set more rules. You double your pace.
Art, however, refuses to cooperate with trying harder. Writing a book isn’t just about churning out pages. I can churn, baby. I can churn. But to what end? Sure, I can perform under stress. I’ve been doing that my whole life.
I can’t force inspiration. I can’t force revival. The best ideas I’ve had came almost by accident. There is no formula. I hate that and I love it.
I rarely give myself permission to flounder. I rarely give myself permission to fail.
I’ve been reading through my highschool journals this past week and they are the simply wonderful. Why? Because I was failing all over the place and, for the first time in my life, I was writing it all down without hiding it inside.
Since then, I haven’t let myself be that freely fallen.
I learn far more from floundering and failing and experimenting and hurting and than I do by following nice little check-lists that keep me out of trouble.
The key to learning, I’ve discovered, is to write it down afterwards. As I write down what I’ve done, I engage in self-reflection and self-awareness. I step outside myself and look at what I’m doing.
The times that got me into the most trouble were NOT when I broke the rules but when I started following an ideal too closely.
I’ve also discovered that my true source of happiness was never found by seeking happiness. It was found by embracing pain.
The odd side-effect of writing this book is that by intentionally embracing my childhood pain, I emerge from writing about it with a sudden, new appreciation for my real life.
I can enter the deepest, darkest places because I know I have a safe place to land when I’m done. Suffering makes me happy.
By allowing myself to flounder a bit through this book-writing process and by simultaneously embracing pain (including hard, morning workouts) I’m finding a true sense of freedom, looseness and creativity.
When I’m feeling blocked, stressed or exhausted, I have to let myself wander, dither, flounder and nap. I might need to do this for a few days. My best ideas come to me in dreams, in the shower, while running, while cooking, sometimes while mopping the floor.
The point is, these ideas wouldn’t come to me if I was strapped to my desk staring at a blank screen.
I need to flail, flounder and fail.
That’s when the words start to flow.
That’s when the art happens.