Whoosh. You’ve returned from a creative retreat that cracked open your heart or a writing intensive that launched your spirit or a business retreat that clarified your vision.
Boom. You return home and to the office. Your spouse reminds you that the juicer is broken. Your senior partner reminds you of the clients’ work waiting. Your child’s got the flu.
What to do with that open heart, launched spirit, and new vision?
That’s the question numerous authors likely faced last week after returning home from the Your Brave New Story Author’s Intensive held here in the Hudson Valley at the Mohonk Mountain House Resort.
In fact, one author emailed me last week and reminded me of Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield’s telling book title, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry. The condition describes a variety of post-bliss, post-intensive experiences in which we feel as if “daily life” pales compared to the “peak experiences” we just went through.
In my own 20-plus pursuit to live deliberately and shape days artfully, I’ve sought ways to avoid what could be an unnecessary schism between the ecstasy and the laundry. Hence, my tracking Thoreau, Aristotle’s notions of the good life, the poets & mystics, Zen, what Abraham Maslow (who coined “peak experience”) called “plateau experiences,” and wonder.
This pursuit also has framed how I try to design experiences that equip professionals and creatives to return home and “do the laundry” if not in ecstasy then at least with a slightly enhanced lens.
So, I created for those authors what I’m sharing with you today – “The Post-Ecstasy Laundry List.” It’s a set of ten suggestions for sustaining your creative quest at home, at the office, in the studio, at the desk. Test them out, and let us know in the comments below which of these most resonates and what you would add.
1. Put on the robe. Create the simple morning ritual that reminds your best self that you are a writer who’s conceiving, shaping, and sharing a brave new story that you must tell. Saying to yourself and to others, “I am writing a book” is a start.
2. Fence your mind. On the other hand, never sit down to write a book. How daunting. Instead, tame your mind’s focus and scope.The Little Prince reminds us that to tame is a way to love. To love your creative mind, frame its focus with a specific intention: “This morning, I am writing into this scene.” “This evening, I am discovering more about my protagonist’s want in the Beginning.” Such statements create a fence within which your mind can roam.
3. Love time. What we love, we pay attention to. So, it follows in my poetic logic that to love time, pay attention to it. Find a way to track time and shape it. As an accomplished client recently confided, “I don’t think my issue any longer is that I don’t have enough time. I think it has something more to do with my ineffective ways of organizing.” Bingo. Creatives who thrive shape time.
4. Shape space. If you have not yet shaped a corner of a room or claimed a room for your Best Self’s work, do so now. A converted closet will suffice. Claim a wall to hang your maps and Story Eggs. If you share a house with others, be sure they “get” that you are a writer who’s conceiving a book and brave new story. Watch out!
5. Fence your obsession. I suggest you not show up to write in 5-hour bursts and then burn yourself out for the next three weeks. Write and conceive in consistent 60- or 90-minute sessions. If you’re mid-sentence or mid-thought when the 90 minutes is up, write down “START HERE TOMORROW” wherever you are. Truman Capote used to stop his writing sessions mid-sentence so he’d know where to pick up the next day.
6. Honor the feeling and the wonder. When you get distressed or in comparison-&-competition mode, return to the deep felt feeling that drives you to tell this brave new story.
7. Become a craftsman. Don’t buy into the story that I told myself for years that writers don’t get to work with their hands like carpenters and sculptors. The sculptor Auguste Rodin essentially changed how the poet Rainer Rilke saw and wrote forever. He taught him to write with his eyes and to love the raw material of his craft. The craft is more than you. It’s part of the lineage you walk and write in. Student: “Do I think I could be a writer?” Writer: “I don’t know. Do you love sentences?” (taken from Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life) Break down the skills. Test the tools.
8. Honor your ultimate responsibility over your obligations. You’re responsible to your loved ones. You’re responsible for fulfilling your promises to others. But most of your tasks entail obligations, not responsibility. Your ultimate responsibility to loved ones and to your patch of the planet is to shape your life in a way that you live out your creative dharma. And for now that means showing up to discover what this brave new story is all about, who it’s for, how to shape it, and how to get its medicine out into the world. Your doing so offers a remarkable mirror and example for others to admire – and some day to do likewise in their own way.
9. Make mistakes. The only catastrophic choice a writer makes is not to choose. Whether it’s genre or working story arc or angle. Show up. Get messy. Hit dead ends. Flounder. That’s part of the quest. Arjuna (warrior from great lineage, who fears the battle of his lifetime)”: “But I have other duties calling to me!” Krishna (a perennially patient writing coach!): “It is better to perform your own duty/dharma imperfectly than someone else’s perfectly.”
10. Love the laundry. When you shape space and time for the above, the rest of your day unfolds with a different rhythm. Maybe. Your computer will freeze. Your clothes will shrink in the dryer. Your child will cry in the middle of the night. But maybe, just maybe, you will regard more and more of “the rest of life” as a continuum of and not a conflict with your writing life and creative quest.
That’s the list that’s working for me and others right now. Again, let us know in the comments below which of these items most resonates and what you would add.
Thanks for running with me,