Reconciling Passion & The Leap

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I’ve been working on the same novel since the beginning of time.

In my first incarnation I probably wore mammoth furs and carved this story onto a cave wall with an antler dipped in red ochre.

As a slave, I likely told it orally at the close of an endlessly long and grueling day. My “master” wouldn’t have allowed me to learn how to read and write, but that didn’t stop this creation from wanting to come through me. So I must have whispered it in the dark to my children as I tucked them into bed.

In my pioneer days, I imagine myself putting up tomatoes, scrubbing the diapers of my twelve children on a washboard, and pausing every few hours to pick up my goose quill and scratch out pieces of this story, only to have it end up in the fire because we needed starter.

Countless incarnations, same story wanting to be born through me.

This “time” around the story began to nudge me in 1999. On and off for sixteen years I’ve heeded the call—through my divorce, my cross-country move, countless surgeries, and some of the brightest and darkest days of my life.

Last year, I trashed 224 pages of it, and began again.

Yep… still the same story.

As I begin to wrap up this first book of this trilogy, I’ve been pondering my life/lives as Writer & Storyteller. And… as the Universe so oft does, I’ve been witness to some pretty incredible serendipities surrounding my thought processes.

Case in point was a conversation I listened to a few days ago between Elizabeth Gilbert and Brené Brown. It was the finale of the season of Liz’s Magic Lessons podcast.

Brené was talking about taking leaps and experiencing failure. And something she said struck me, “I don’t leap or jump for the landing. I leap for the experience through the air. Because you cannot predict the landing.” She went on to say, “I used to ask myself this question all the time: what would I do if I knew I could not fail? But now the question becomes for me: What’s worth doing, even if I fail?

(I hang my head in shame over the number of times I’ve asked a client: What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?) But, since Brené is the Shame Slayer, I forgive myself and understand that was the old me. The new me that is being born, squalling and covered in slime, would much rather reflect on “What’s worth doing, even if I fail?”

Liz responded by saying she has always wanted to take a Sharpie and place an editing carrot over all the “What would you do if you knew you could not fail” bumper stickers in the world, and replace them with these questions instead:

What do you love doing so much that the word ‘failure’ doesn’t even have any meaning?

What would you do even if it was a total failure?

What do you want to do because you don’t have a choice?

Then Liz asked this question: “When did inspiration promise us that it owes us anything?”

And… all the way back to the very beginning of my soul’s time, the massive quantities of hair on my caveman body stood on end.

Liz continued: “As far as I understand inspiration, it owes you nothing, except the transcendence of the experience of working with it at all. That’s the only contract that we have with inspiration.”

Finally Liz quoted Clive James, saying: “Failure has a function. It asks you if you really want to go on making things.”

Let me repeat that, and bold it, and underline it. Here you go… Failure “asks you if you really want to go on making things.”

And the answer for me is a resounding “HELL YES!”

The Landing

Now, all of this is not to say that I don’t have intentions for my “landing” as a writer:

  • I intend to sell my speculative fiction trilogy within the next two years to tremendous success.
  • I intend to write and sell a few books a year after that, again to tremendous success.
  • I intend to make a beautiful living as a writer.
  • I intend to hit the New York Times bestseller lists, every single time.
  • I  intend for my all of my books to become International Bestsellers, again, every single time.
  • I intend to go on a worldwide book tour.
  • I intend to have tea with Philip Pullman.  Lunch with Patrick Rothfuss. Dinner with…

And… if all of the above weren’t to happen, I would still be a writer. I would still write. I would still leap and revel in my time in the air. After all, I believe my soul and all its incarnations is that of storyteller. It seems there’s no getting around that.

I can’t begin to tell you the freedom I feel to create whatever is within me.

As I pondered all of this for days, I realized that it’s been informing my work since the beginning without my realizing it.

I’m not here to help my clients write a book in 30 days (though I have some amazing colleagues who do just that.) I’m not here to help them hit the #1 category on Amazon, which usually equates to:

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #324,985 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

#1 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Gnats > Bugs > Bug Anatomy > Extraneous Parts > Goo

Nope. I want to help them become writers. I want to be part of the leap and not the landing. I want to help them “apply ass to chair” and truly experience the process: the journey, the healing, the laughter, the tears, the transcendence. I want to help them learn how to translate what they see in their mind onto the blank page with clarity, so that others may see it as well. I want to help them dig into the dark of their internal world and bring it into the light, allowing their readers to learn something new about themselves and the world.

I want to help writers to “tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. [A] tale [that] will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift. [To shape the future.] ~ The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I can’t count the number of clients who’ve come to me with business plans, and “shoulds”, and money-making ideas based on their past work histories who, after three or four sessions, finally utter this one truth: “I don’t really want to do all that. I don’t. I just want to be a writer. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

That, for me, is the crux of Liz and Brené’s conversation – to fully own and integrate our soul’s whisper (or scream, as the case may be); our passion, regardless of the outcome. And it will forever inform my work in the world as writer and Book Shaman. I want my clients to yell, midair: “YES, YES, YES… THIS, THIS, THIS.”

And… I jest with the Amazon blurb.

Sort of.

As you can clearly see from my own landing intentions, I fully support dreams, “going big or going home,” and the longing to make your mark on the world; to be seen and heard. I’m not opposed to success and bestsellerdom. I want those things too. And I know the process of platform building, marketing, getting on “the list”, managing a book tour, blah, blah, blah. I’m happy to share this experience with clients. But, my main focus needs to be on the “what”, the “calling” itself—yep…the leap.

It’s the same for my business coaching. I’m not concerned with blanket statements like this: “you have to have an opt-in with a freebie gift to get folks to sign up for your newsletter.” Instead, what feels true for you right now? What feels like freedom and love, and what inspired action can you take around that? I wholly believe:

[tweetthis]We are only responsible for inspired action and what we are called to create.[/tweetthis]

It’s time to let go of the results, the “shoulds”, the “have-tos”, and other folks’ reaction to our creations.

One of the final things Brené shared on the podcast was a quote that is tacked up on her wall that says: “Creativity: We don’t have to do it alone. We were never meant to.”  We don’t have to suffer our art, folks. We don’t have to be starving artists, huddled alone in our darkened rooms, sacrificing, slicing up bits of our soul, peppering it with spices, and serving it up on a platter. We really don’t. We just have to fully embrace and enjoy the leap, and not concern ourselves so much with the landing.

(You can listen to the whole podcast here. It’s well worth your time.)

8 replies
  1. Sarah says:

    Melanie

    This is such a welcome insight right now. In spite of what my brain knows I still gravitate towards the end result and the “shoulds.” The list of how-to-be an (___Insert__Title___ ) is growing. This was not why I began spilling my guts at the age of 12. I did it because I needed to. I still need to, and the truth telling is for me. Now with this wider scope and desire to give to readers as I have been gifted by so many authors, I get lost. I don’t know how to reconcile the ache to give a really awesome present, and the necessity of living paycheck to paycheck. I also love the invitation to stop suffering as the starving artist. My belly has been filled hearty and warm by friends these last 2 weeks, and I feel ready to keep on going. So much love to you. I wish I could squeeze you through the screen and smile into your eyes. I am glad to know you.

    Reply
    • Melanie Bates says:

      Aww, Sarah, I adore you so much. I think, perhaps, the trick is to give the “present” to yourself first, without regard to who else might receive it later on. There’s a truly magic space that opens up when we’re creating solely for ourselves to begin with.

      I’ve come to believe that “writer’s block” is simply a phenomenon that only occurs when we’re writing with our audience in mind, and not for ourselves. For how can you truly write for a dozen other people, trying to “please” them, when they’re all so vastly different. We must tell the story we would want to read, and feel the surprises, the laughter, the tears, and the healing. Eventually, every emotion you feel, your readers will feel, but you have to be the pioneer of all of that.

      I’m so glad you’re full of heart and warmth, let that spill over in your creation. Love you, my friend.

      xo
      Melanie

      Reply
    • Lisa Tatge says:

      Boom. You are amazing. This made me tear up multiple times. I love that you even quoted The Night Circus. Can’t wait to have lunch with you in a couple weeks! You will hit the NYT best seller list my love, it’s only a matter of time!

      Reply
  2. Jeannette says:

    So many things I love about this post!

    “We are only responsible for inspired action and what we are called to create” is huge. Thanks for following your inspiration to bring us this wisdom, Melanie. 🙂

    Reply
  3. Janette says:

    I’m with Jeannette. SO MUCH to love about this post.

    And the storyteller in me has kicked me sharply in the shins to remind me that I’ve been ignoring her too long. Thank you for waking her up. <3

    Reply

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