26 October 2009

Trust the Force, Luke

Some of my best work happens when I am not working. 

In preparing to launch this blog, at the end of the summer, I wrote some very rough drafts of possible posts.  I’ve learned to trust the process of getting ideas on paper first, however incomplete or awkwardly expressed, and editing later if the ideas still hold.

The extraordinary essayist Anne Lamott uses a technical term for this: the “shitty first draft.”  

But something big was missing for me with these drafts.   I didn’t have a sense of the whole blog.  I wasn’t sure who exactly was writing – my private self?  my coach self?  I couldn’t possibly massage the drafts into posts without knowing the larger gestalt.  I was stalled.

Then I had the immense luxury of a day with no appointments and no pressing deadlines.  The only item on my calendar was “blog.”  I spent the whole day reading blogs, thinking about blogs, conceiving of my blog.

I thought about blogs while I went to the farmers’ market and bought wonderful fruits and veggies.  I thought about blogging while I drove home, unpacked it all, and then cooked up a storm.  I roasted yellow peppers. I poached chicken breast (I know it’s not a vegetable). 

I made a chicken salad with the chicken breast, the roasted peppers, calamata olives, the sweetest little yellow cherry tomatoes you could ever meet up with, gently sauteed zucchini, and maybe another veggie  or two.  I tossed it with a Dijon vinaigrette I quickly made and refrigerated the whole thing, to be served later on a bed of greens. 

I also made a pureed zucchini-leek soup with lemon, coriander, and a small hit of red pepper, and chilled it.  And I cooked 8 ears of fresh sweetcorn (still at the season’s peak), 3 of would be used at dinner-for-two and the rest would be used over the next 2 days, one way or another. 
While my hands were busy with all this good chop-wood-carry-water kind of work that I truly enjoy when I enjoy it, my mind was in deep background, thinking about blogging.  I don’t think I said anything out loud for 6 hours.  The dinner, at least, was going to be good, I thought, whether or not I ever launch this blog. 

But what started to emerge, by the end of the day, was a concept for my blog, a location from which to speak.  I couldn’t have said at the start of the day that that was the missing piece, but as it began to emerge, I recognized it as something I had been lacking. 

When I returned the next morning to my “shitty first draft” of random, roughed-out ideas for blog posts, it no longer looked disjointed (though it still read like a sfd). 

The behind-the-scenes conceptual work I had done while chopping and cooking veggies now provided a framework for containing most of the ideas in the drafts.  I knew which ones to throw out and which ones to keep. I understood where I woud be coming from, to write this blog.  I was no longer stalled. 

Trusting the process is sometimes, in E.L. Doctorow’s words, “like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

If you wait until you can visualize the whole journey, you’ll never get there because you’ll never take the first step

If I had made myself spend the day at the office, I would still be stalled. 

Tapping into your deepest wisdom and creativity most often happens indirectly.  You can’t access those parts of yourself with your mind in cognitive, task-list mode.  When you engage in activity that leaves your mind free, you open up the possibility of hearing from those deeper parts of yourself.  “Intuition will tell the thinking mind where to look next,”    Jonas Salk wrote.

So give your inner task master a day off now and then.  And trust your own process.

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