Isn’t summer the best time to fall in love? Actually, I don’t know if that’s true for me. Almost all of my relationships began when the ground was still covered with snow. But still, there’s something about those warm summer nights that beg to be shared. I think Joni Mitchell might have described it best in “Both Sides Now.”
Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy, dancing way that you feel.
As every fairy tale comes real;
I’ve looked at love that way.
But as hinted at in the last line of that stanza, “Both Sides Now” isn’t a song about love. Not exactly. It’s a song about looking back and seeing that things weren’t always what you thought they were, about realizing how much you still have left to realize.
I turn thirty-six this weekend. While it’s not one of those birthdays you normally think of as a milestone, I have now officially spent as much time in adulthood as I have in childhood. And even though I know exponentially more about life and the world and myself than I did a year ago or a decade ago or even eighteen years ago when I officially became an adult, I still struggle with the same general set of problems I struggled with when adulthood began.
The same is true of my writing. Even though I’ve passed a few milestones and learned a great many lessons along the way, I’m still struggling with the same thing I was at the beginning of my journey – how to actually get to the chair and write. That’s why this and just about every blog post I’ve written so far has something to do with this topic and why my MFA thesis bore the title The Way to the Chair.
I know I’m not alone in my struggle. Even great writers like Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life) and Elizabeth Gilbert (Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear) admit to having this problem at one time or another. So, I guess I’m in good company. But being in good company doesn’t help beyond making me feel a little less alone.
I sometimes find respite when deadlines force me to the chair or when I fall in love with a story and wake up every morning teeming with ideas. But these times are few and far between, and they each come with their own set of drawbacks. With a looming deadline, writing becomes an anxiety-laden sprint, leaving me exhausted at the finish line, swearing never to write another word again. And just like romantic love ebbs and flows, so too does my love for any one story. By the time I’m on my third or seventh or (god help us all) seventeenth revision, the love I once felt has turned to disgust and resentment and wishing my story had eyes so I could poke at them with a very sharp stick. Obviously, neither of these options is a healthy long term strategy.
So, what do I do?
Last weekend I was talking to a friend who happens to be the co-founder of a very successful tech start-up. On the way to lunch, we were discussing work habits, and he told me briefly about one of his employees, a project manager who had this seemingly supernatural ability to stay calm regardless of how much stress or pressure she was under. After having observed this ability of hers for quite some time, my friend finally asked her how she did it. He said her answer blew his mind. And it proceeded to subsequently blow mine as well.
She didn’t fall in love with any one project. She fell in love with the process.
I’m sure people have said this before. I’ve probably even heard it before. But for some reason, at this moment, I was ready to internalize it. My heart sped. My stomach started buzzing. The idea was literally resonating in my body.
Fall in love with the process. It makes so much sense. Because then, it doesn’t matter if the product is good enough or how long it takes to complete it or what people say about it. When it’s about the process, the most important thing is the work itself, and not just when it’s easy, like in the new story honeymoon phase. The excruciating critical feedback and zero-net-progress writing days, the missed deadlines and realization that the whole darn thing needs rewritten (again) are part of it too. And falling in love with the process means falling in love with all of it. I can’t just begrudgingly accept the more difficult parts anymore, secretly wishing they’d go away. Instead, I need to welcome them wholeheartedly to my writing desk. Because welcoming them and honoring their role in this work, neutralizes the fear they cause, which is what was keeping me from writing in the first place.
So, I’m going to spend these warm summer nights falling in love with process. There probably won’t be any moonlit walks or bright pink ferris wheels in this budding romance. Just a lot of sitting and writing. But if this summer fling is what finally gets me to the chair, it may just turn into the kind of love that lasts a lifetime.