The Experiment.

As I cryptically referenced in the last post:

I’m going to be documenting this experiment on the blog in the coming year.  I may be absolutely nuts, but if anybody has ever said “follow your bliss” and “things will work out” — well, here’s the clinical trial, baby.

But what exactly does that look like?  How can you follow your bliss, practice extreme faith, and not go completely, uselessly bonkers?  And if this is a clinical trial — what, exactly, is the experiment?

No goals.  Now what?

Having been a recovering Type A, er, type, I discovered that not thinking in terms of goals can be confusing. “What, I’m just supposed to be for an entire year?  Navel gaze for twelve months?  Then what?”

Besides that, there are external factors at work.  I’ve got five books coming out in 2012… and three books contracted to complete.  And I sincerely doubt my publisher’s going to be sunshine & smiles if I suddenly declare “oh, I decided not to have any goals this year.  You’ll have it when it’s done.  And I’m promoting in a sort of when I feel like it manner.  But it’ll work!  Byeee!”

So how can I do what I feel needs to be done (like pay bills, and teach classes, and write books and promote them) without some kind of pressure?

Mind your metaphors.

Most of you know I am a huge fan of Havi Brooks over at The Fluent Self.  One of her things is the power of metaphor.  If the story you’re telling yourself about something doesn’t work, you change the story.  For example, she absolutely detested the idea of staff meetings.  Envisioning it (and actually calling it) a Drunken Pirate Council, on the other hand, works like a charm.

Since we’re writers, we of all people should be able to recognize the power of words.  Actively using metaphors to… well, write our lives, makes perfect sense to me.  (As does altering our own POV — but I’ll be blogging more about that later.)

Obviously, I had an issue with goals+pressure+burnout=getting shit done.  I had the wrong equation.  I saw it as a rat race, of sorts.  While I had some healthier and more authentic metaphors for me (like tribe vs. platform, and gift/contribution vs. pushy-used-car-sales) I still kept looking at the numbers.  How many followers?  How many sales to hit bestseller?  Feelings are well and good, but what are the numbers?

And there was that whole driving into a wall thing.  *Shudder.*

Welcome to the Cruise.

Okay, this is one of the crazier things I’ve tried — and after four years in Berkeley and a decent stint in the clubs of L.A., that’s saying something.

My metaphor for 2012 is a luxury cruise.

I knew that my biggest problem was focusing myopically on accomplishment, benchmarks, milestones.  Like one of those tours, where you have to see eighteen countries in about two days.  This is the Eiffel Tower!  This is Luxembourg!  Back on the bus!

Instead, I wanted an experience of relaxation.  There would be stops, stuff to see, sure… but the whole point is really just being on the cruise.  I always imagine a cruise being a sanctioned place to hang out on a deck chair and read, so right there, I knew I wanted more of that.

You can hang out with other people who are presumably there because they like the whole experience.  Or you can just hide in your stateroom.

And at the end of the cruise, you go back to where you started from.

Experience for experience’s sake.

Another chestnut.  Ever heard “live like you’re dying?”  As in, if you only had a year left to live, what would you do?

I can agree with the sentiment, but really — if you could run up your credit cards and tell the company to go screw itself, if you could bare your soul and if it all went wrong well, hell, you’re dead! — it’s easier to say.  It’s saying “live like you won’t have to deal with the consequences.”  And yes, that’s simply my problem with the metaphor.

Instead, I’m looking at it as “live like you’re on a vacation.”  (Assuming, for the moment, that you’re not a Type-A workaholic with a surgically attached iPhone or an aforementioned tour nazi.  I actually had a tour guide once snap at me when I complained about our pace: “You’re not on holiday.  You’re on tour.”)

When you’re on vacation, you slow down.  You’ve got options, but you could theoretically just chill out and read if you’re feeling exhausted.  It’s about replenishment, and being curious about things, and having fun.  And usually, horrible things that happen simply become fodder for the stories you tell to non-vacationeers later.  “So nobody spoke English, it was four o’clock in the morning, we couldn’t get a taxi!  And we wound up staying out all night!”

So, now that I’ve flown my freak flag…what about you?

If you had a metaphor for your writing life… what would it be?  And do you like it?



10 Replies to “The Experiment.”

  1. For the last couple years, since I finished a draft of the trilogy, I spent my New Year celebration thinking, “This will be the year I get published.” Funny, with all the changes in the industry, and the thought that I can just publish it myself, I had no such thoughts this year. It’s ironic. I spent the last eight or nine years with such a goal-oriented outlook. First, get to ‘the end.’ Then get published. Now that I’m closer than ever, I was able to take a broader view.

    I’ve made so many valuable connections and friendships in the past year. My involvement with WU and RU have been really fulfilling. I dipped my toe in, and discovered how fulfilling giving back can feel with a local literacy charity. I really feel truly blessed, and I only want to expand it in the months and years to come.

    I’ve recently examined what I want out of this whole thing. And I’ve been fortunate enough to have gotten a bit of feedback from readers who connected. It feels amazing when people say they identify with, or are moved by, the work. That’s what I want from it. To connect with other human beings. I ran the rat race in business and willingly dropped out, only to allow myself to take a new number and start running again. I think I’m done racing now.

    Funny, I hadn’t seen your link. I stopped in here today to look up some of the posts from last year that really inspired me, and now this is one joins the list. I’ll join you on the deck chairs, and I’m sure we’ll see some great stuff this year. Wonderful post, Cathy. A great start for the new year.

    1. I’m certainly glad I met you through WU. And I’m still playing with the whole concept — is it possible to survive, and thrive, without the push-sell-drive dynamic? I know it is, but I frankly haven’t seen how.

      Now, I’m sensing that I’m not supposed to see, at least not a clear straight road from here to there. I know what the next step is, I’m taking it. Gulp.

      Sure am glad to have the company, tho. Pass me a book, will ya? 😉

  2. My metaphor for 2012 is Risk Everything.
    For me, though, it doesn’t mean what it implies. I’m a planner, a plotter and very cautious in life in general. Risking for my writing means writing from my gut, trusting my protagonist fully and not listening to what’s going on around me (industry or fellow writer wise).

    I spent last year with a goal of getting an agent in 2011. That didn’t happen, but it was due to me and not my writing. Fears, procrastination and more fear. lol So this year, I don’t want to say I’ll get an agent or get published. This year is about writing the best damn stories I can.

    Thanks for this post. It fits in perfectly right now with what I’m going through. 🙂

  3. I wouldn’t describe it as a metaphor as such – ‘the night has passed and the day has arrived’ – for me this symbolizes sloughing off the issues of yesterday and starting afresh, every day.

  4. Love the “live like you are on vacation” idea – whoop *kat leans back, relaxes . . .for two seconds laugh*

    Instead of a metaphor, I just had this image come unbidden of me trying to pull myself out of a hole I’d fallen in – dang! huhn. . . .

  5. I love the idea of living like you’re on vacation; partly because every day you can choose things to do that you really want to do but there’s no pressure to do them.

    That fits well with my theme of the year, Ease. Not “taking it easy” but “making it easy”, and “doing with ease the things that I need to do”.

    Great post. Great experiment.

  6. Oh Cathy how could I not respond.

    ‘Going Out In Style’, my novel, five years in the making, is finished but not published.
    It is literary fiction (75,000 words) about Boris Schecter, a 68-year old bisexual man who is ‘on God’s hit list.’ To put joy between himself and death, he’ll play his last pool game on the ‘Luminous Liminality’, an over-the-top cruise for the terminally ill.
    Check out my website to hear the first couple of chapters read to you. If you’d like to read more about the cruise I’ll send you a copy of the manuscript.

    Enjoy the journey.

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