Sunday, June 3, 2018

Protecting the Writing: a Quick How-To

I'm hard at work writing THE ORCHID THRONE, the first in my new trilogy for St. Martins Press. So, naturally, I had to impulse-buy this gorgeous orchid from Trader Joe's. It's my new desk ornament, following the USB-plug in Christmas tree, cherry blossom tree, and foaming cauldron. This one notably does NOT require electricity, which seems appropriate for the world I'm writing. However, it does require attention to be kept alive. So far my record with orchids is pretty abysmal. (Don't tell this gal!) We shall see. Any tips for keeping orchids alive in a desert climate?

Last week I traveled to Phoenix to give a presentation to the Desert Rose Romance Writers. This one was "A Taoist’s Guide to Staying Sane in the Writing Business." I talked a whole lot about how the relentless push to get rich can make us crazy, and how to find a peaceful place of sane creativity in the midst of that. But, during the great discussion at the end, one gal asked if I had advice about family who don't believe in your career, who actively interfere or dis what you're doing, or who won't approved of your eventual story.

This is, of course, not an easy question to answer, though several gals in the room had advice for her, too. It's also our topic at the SFF Seven this week: How much space do you give non-writing emotional labor - or how do you save mental space for the work with a head full of mortgage and other people's expectations? I'd call this a coincidence, but I'm a Taoist I know it's not.

Everybody struggles with this. It's an issue that affects everyone, not just writers, and not just creatives. Unless we're hermits, life is a balancing act of what we do to please ourselves and what we do to please others. At one end of the extreme, we have the sociopath (or hermit) who cares nothing for other people's needs or is completely isolated from them. At the other end is the doormat, that abject individual who lives as a metaphorical slave to the needs of others, to the point that they have nothing of their own.

The answer - as with all things of the Tao, since I'm already coming at it from that angle - is finding the middle way.

This is easier said than done. Like so many aspects of finding the middle way, it takes constant re-evaluation and adjustment - and honest self-examination. What we can depend on is that things will always change. Sometimes people in our lives honestly need us more than other times. There are illnesses and emergencies - emotional and physical - and times of crisis.

The trick is to differentiate the real crises from the over-dramatized kind. Because we all know those people, right? The ones who have daily crises, if not more often, and for whom EVERYTHING is a MAJOR HUGE DEAL SO YOU MUST PAY ATTENTION TO ME RIGHT NOW.

And I'm not just talking about cats!

So, how do we deal with this? By drawing boundaries and sticking to them. Make your writing sacred and build a fence around it. And a big stone wall. Maybe add a lava moat, too. Post the rules for entry clearly. If someone fakes their way in, then they get stiffer rules and penalties going forward until they prove they can be trusted again. Treat it like a game if you have to, but erect that fortress and defend it vigorously!

This goes for your own worries, too. Give those distracting thoughts names and identities and make them obey the rules, too. They don't get to come into the fortress. Everything and everyone gets their time and place.

Under heaven some things lead, some follow, 
some blow hot, some cold, 
some are strong, some weak, some are fulfilled, some fail.

So the wise soul keeps away
from the extremes, excess, extravagance.

Chapter 29, Tao Te Ching
by Lao Tzu, translated by Ursula K. Le Guin

That's how you do it: draw the boundaries and know that you'll have to defend them. And also know to keep from the extremes. Find the middle way.