The question that stalls us: "How will it all turn out?"

Practically all the conversations I’ve had with writers recently—and a good number of the little talks that have gone on in my head—have somehow circled back to the question of certainty. Before the first word is written, before a playful desire has had a chance to riffle through the closet and try on a top hat or tutu, before a single tiny seed is dropped from cupped palm into waiting soil we want to know: How will it all turn out? Will they make fun of it? Will it be good? Will it sell? Will it make me safe and loved and successful? And what about that Nobel Prize?

One client wants to start a blog because she wants to spark a conversation about her ideas. And because blogging is how you get a job—employers want to see that. “But who will come?” her mind races on. “How will I market it? How popular will it be? Can I turn it into a book? What if it’s a tree falling silently in the massive electronic forest? What if I don’t get the job?”

That’s a wee bit of pressure, darlin’.

I’m all too familiar with that racing mind. It’s the voice inside me that demands a payoff before it makes an investment. The clenched part that wants some kind of guarantee. It doesn’t look kindly on messes and experiments. It only wants results.

It’s also the part of me that imagines the project, whether it’s a poem or a book or a play, as enormous. So massive and important and Pyramids of Gaza vast that it’s hardy possible for a mere human to construct.

Back to body, breath, and now

It’s not easy to start (or continue) when the stakes seem so high, the imagined competition so stiff. So when I notice those thoughts running loose again, I take a few deep, slow breaths and come back from the unknowable future into the room/the car/ my body/the page in front of me. If I feel prickles of anxiety in my neck or shoulders, I imagine pulling them off like thorns. If there’s a heavy weight on my chest, I lift it off and put it on the ground. I take another deep breath.

Back in the present, a little lighter, still breathing, I start small.

What’s in front of me, right now, that I can bring to my writing? (A green glass bottle of water, filled with reflections.) What are my senses taking in? When I look or listen closely, what’s’s right here, alive to my attention? What small detail can I bring back?



The mantra: small, small, small

I return often to the word “small” when I think about writing—and when I sit down to write. Small is disarming. It doesn’t come with big expectations. It’s allowed to be fragmentary or rough or nonsensical. It’s allowed to play.

This week, I brought my writing a lemon, “a Meyer lemon so recently pulled from a branch that its skin was delicate as a petal and infused with the scent and memory of blossoms, and then mine was too.”

What will that lemon become? Or the hand that held it, or the woman who sat at the kitchen table, absorbed in gold and perfume, marveling over the way the flower had never disappeared from the fruit?

I don’t know yet. I don’t know how it all turns out.

But I do know that the lemon still breathes in me, and it’s the beginning of something, if only a glass of lemonade. I know, too, that I can keep asking questions to go deeper: How else does that lemon haunt me? What does it remind me of? When I slip back into that experience, that boat with a bright yellow hull, where does it take me?

The wonder cure

It’s not so hard to pay close attention to something in your life for just a few minutes during the day. To be with it, deeply experiencing it, and then to write a line or two. If you take on that practice, it’s yours, guided by you. You get to focus on whatever you want, to swoop toward something shiny, to be fascinated by whatever hooks you. If you’re working on a project, you can keep tracking  aspects of it with your open, curious presence. What did you notice? What color were its eyes? What happened inside you? You can ask and answer and go deeper, moment by moment.

Fascination. Curiosity. A sense of wonder and wondering about what’s here to be found right now. They’re the antidote for “How does it all turn out?” And they’re right here, waving you over, inviting you to play.

(Image by Chris Hunkeler via Flickr.)