I spent the last three days holed up at the fabulous Hotel Monaco, trying to get some big writing done and curling up in the zebra and cheetah robes that are de rigueur at the Monaco.
Writing is scary for me. Not writing this, what you’re reading right now; this is as delicious as writing a love letter to my favorite person.
(Because that’s exactly what I’m doing.)
But there are some bigger projects I’m working on that involve grappling with my own history and some of the big philosophical questions, and they scare the absolute crap out of me.
So I want to tell you how I did the scary thing the last few days, because I think it’ll help you with your scary things too, whether that’s parenting, or making a big decision, or learning to tango on a tiger.
How To Do Something Scary
1. Enlist support.
I have to give a shout-out to my awesome friend Jenny Shih. Not only did she come and take excellent care of my daughter so I could go away, she is the one who kicked me in the tush and got this whole thing going in the first place with a loving line like “Look. You are not getting this done. I think you should raise the stakes. I’ll help.” You cannot buy friends like this; they are worth more than all the rubies in the world. A good coach, mentor, or masseuse can also do the trick if you’re short on rubies at the moment.
2. Raise the stakes.
This seems counter-intuitive, because I talk a lot about how to feel safe in the world (in fact, the whole first week of Secret Mystics is all about deliberately cultivating a bone-deep sense of safety in the world.) But every now and then, to get to something that you really really want that also really really scares you, a little benevolent pressure is in order. One of the best ways to do this is tell people publicly that you’re going to do it. Facebook is great for this: so is signing up for a course, buying an ad, or any other form of public accountability. The idea is to set yourself up so that it’s actually easier to just do the damn thing rather than have to sheepishly admit you didn’t.
3. Pack good supplies.
I want to show you the inside of my suitcase. I packed for comfort, company, and clarity. I took along a stack of friends. These friends were disguised as books: my favorite memoirs, books on writing– a little cheering squad, if you will. I took a candle and blueberry muffins and a dozen Stash Double Bergamot Earl Grey tea bags. I took way too many essential oils and potions.
I knew that I would hit my own shame at some point– that I wasn’t further along, that I wasn’t writing better, that it required so much drama to get me to do it in the first place– so I stocked my room with all sorts of loving energies.
Just as important is what I didn’t take with me: no New Yorker, no Oprah magazine, no books that intimidate or depress me. I actually wiped my to-do list of everything else and wrote “write like a motherfucker” on the top to remind me of why I was there.
I also took my big-ass computer from home. I know, it’s a little over the top, but I don’t like writing on a laptop and it was a good visual reminder of why I was there, since it dominated the room. I feel a little shy telling you all this, but these are the ways I’ve learned to take care of myself, and they feel as supportive and loving as a big hug.
4. Dress the part.
This seems shallow, but it’s actually crucial. We are not disembodied minds; we live in our bodies, and the way our bodies look and feel informs the way we think. Apparently, in my world writers like to wear a lot of gray, especially gray cashmere. I also took along a red silk slip because even though I was alone in my hotel room, I wanted to remember to reconnect with the rich sensual world in my own imagination. The cheetah robe wasn’t bad either.
5. Work magic.
I spent the first few hours in the hotel room crying. That’s right. The first few HOURS. All my shame and fear rose up and choked me, and I wanted to throw up. I kept reminding myself that the only thing that feels worse than writing is NOT writing. After a while I got in the shower. I imagined the hot water washing away all the toxic sludgy thoughts that rose up in my mind: all that mental pollution that whispered You can’t do it and You’re so embarrassing and You’re making a fool out of yourself. I pulled fierce white light into my body with deep, deliberate breaths and I kept the little golden kernel of my own heart gentle, determined company. I swore to myself that no matter what anyone else thought, no matter how many people sent me Liz Gilbert’s essay on how much she hates writers who complain about writing, no matter if anyone ever reads the book I’m trying to write, no matter WHAT– that I was proud of her and I would keep her company.
I wish I could tell you more about what I did in the shower. It was nothing you could see with your eyes. But after about 45 minutes under the water, I emerged triumphant. Ready. Proud. Brave. And then I wrote like a motherfucker for three days.
I’m not being coy when I say that it isn’t the kind of thing I can tell you in a zippy paragraph. It’s practical magic that I learned over a decade. It’s subtle. It takes faith, and a good imagination.
But I will be walking some kindred spirits through this process over nine weeks this autumn. This is the kind of time it takes to learn how to do this. It’s not something I can wrap up in a capsule and hand to you; it’s more like teaching you how to dance. You’ll need to practice. You’ll need support. You’ll need to take it gently, but also fiercely. I am talking of course about Practical Magic for Secret Mystics. We close our doors in a few days, and I have a feeling that YOU might need to join us. (oh, and you who are already signed up? you beautiful mystics? get ready, dearhearts, because we are about to work some serious magic and it is going to be DELICIOUS.)
If it’s not for you, don’t worry, I’ll be here next week. I’ll have tales from Seattle to tell you (we leave in a few hours!), and a small heartbreak and small triumph, probably– and maybe also some more red silk scanties.
Wishing you a beautiful week filled with bravery and heart!