When Your Back is Up Against the Wall – Final Step One Post

Step 1 – Admitted we were powerless over our art and our creative lives had become unmanageable.

Previously, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, no wait, that’s not right.  Well, last week I talked about all of my wounds. That was last week, in my last 12-Step post, but this week, well, we start the climb out. Still in step one, but inching closer towards step two, where all the hope is. Let’s catch you up.

Last week, me alone, in the basement, gnashing my teeth in the darkness.  I needed a dental dam.

Then, a light shining in the darkness, I realized I needed help. And I found people who were willing to aid a poor wretch like me.

Let’s start at home. If not for my wife, I never would have ended up in Big Sur at that writers’ workshop. She got books from the library on writing, and we went over them. She pointed out that what I was doing wasn’t working and that I needed to change. And it was a bad year, that year. I was willing to pursue this because I was so miserable. Let me tell you, if life were all cotton candy, kitties, and puppies, not much would get done. I had to be willing, and willingness for me generally comes when my back is up against the wall and my ass is suckin’ plaster. That’s also when my mind opens to other possibilities.

You’ll hear such things in 12-Step meetings. It’s colorful. And true.

So, finally, after I realized I had my head up my butt, I started to read books on writing. There are a few around. Did I do it in large chunks? Nope, ten minutes a day. It took me months to go through books, but I learned a ton, and it wasn’t the time suck that I had imagined it to be. The few minutes I spent every day were golden.

The books all said to find other artists, and they also suggested reading books on how to improve, take classes, stuff like that. And as a writer, reading successful books is what you do to improve. As Barry Eisler says, you read like a writer, and write like a reader.

I also found a critique group, I found writers conferences, I found people who could help me, and such things exist for all art forms. We don’t have to suffer alone. Suffering with other people is so much more fun. Which is why 12-step programs work. Because in a group, the suffering can turn into something life-giving.

Working in a community of writers, I got to see a variety of writing, good and bad. Analyzing bad writing is just as important as analyzing good writing. I could see where my own writing needed work. And people gave me critiques and that was crucial. Alone, I couldn’t see the whole picture. With other people, I could be far more objective.

The happy, good news is that every artist can improve, and practice is most likely worth more than natural talent. At a Pikes Peak Writers Conference, I heard a speaker talk about the 10,000 hours idea. Basically, to become an expert at anything takes about 10,000 hours, and those who can discipline themselves to do the 10,000 hours get the talent they want. I can guarantee you, Stephen King did the 10,000 hours before he got rich and famous. Some are luckier than others, but the bottom line is that there is a world of information on how to create better ideas on form, style, aesthetics, and if you only rely on your little brain, you are cheating yourself. The way I cheated myself, for years and years.

But I had to be completely willing to do whatever it took to keep on creating, and this is the magic of Step One.

To be in a position of total surrender.

To do anything to move forward, no matter what.

A lot of these belief systems I found that were holding me back I learned in step 4, 5, 6 and 7, but they all put me in a state of powerlessness and unmanageability. When I started down the path, all I needed for a good Step One was the idea that I couldn’t do it alone, that I was out of ideas, that I was stuck. Once I was there, I was ready to move forward.

I entered into a contest with a friend that the first person to reach fifty rejections would owe the other dinner. And I had another friend who was willing to proofread every query letter.

This worked. I won the contest, found a publisher, and one of my books finally found a home outside of my hard drive. And it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been willing to really look at how my creative life was unmanageable.

Some questions for you to ponder:

How are you powerless over your creativity?

How is your artistic life unmanageable?

Are you willing to do whatever it takes to move forward? Why or why not?

Next week!  We hit Step Two at last.  I hope you’ll come back!  Step two is where the hope is.