There’s a one-mile circular route in my neighborhood that I’ve been walking for twenty-four years. I began by waddling its length when we moved into our home in my late third trimester and it was all I could manage in terms of exercise. After open-heart surgery for a faulty valve, I did the loop with a pillow clutched to my chest, seeing my ability to complete the circuit as a sign of imminent healing. I’ve used the route in a pre-nap ritual to tire my children. Of late, it’s become a quick way to perk myself up between writing spells.
But to whatever purpose I trod this path, until this summer I’ve always accessed it by turning left out of our cul de sac.
World-narrowing Mindsets Can Begin for Good Reason
There are good reasons for that consistency. If you complete the loop in a counterclockwise direction, you are granted a better view of a man-made lake.
It’s easier to peel off to get a cold drink, access a bathroom, or buy a treat—critical considerations when you’re hauling little people along with you.
But the biggest reason of all, and a clear illustration of my order in the pack hierarchy, was that turning left made it easier to walk a dog. This was a matter of sidewalk and grass placement. Walking counter-clockwise meant fewer canine temptations, so that after my pooch had a chance to complete their business, I wasn’t being jerked to a halt every few steps while they sniffed vegetation.
Hope Enters the Scene
I have been dogless for over a year, though, and this summer something broke my conditioning. When it did, and I turned the opposite direction, I discovered a strange and enticing land.
Houses which seemed “meh” from one angle turned out to be carefully tended and picturesque. (The converse was also true.) One particular home, which I considered strictly utilitarian, turned out to have vines entwined around a mullioned bow window and woodland plants beneath, like a cottage from Hansel and Gretel.
How This Connects to Writing
Turning left was a such a minor change to make, yet the results were both disorienting and hopeful. It was as if I’d been a forest dweller my entire life and suddenly discovered the existence of moss.
For me, moments like these crystallize the understanding that with the tiniest shift in perception, left can become right, up can become down, and insofar as writing goes, a serial non-finisher can end the year with not one but two publishing credits to her name. (I had the joy of being a contributor to Author in Progress in addition to independently-publishing my debut novel.)
An Accidental Weaponization of Vulnerabilities
So what happened to allow the necessary changes in my life? I’ve given this a lot of thought because I have no intention of regressing to the less-than-productive writing pattern of the last many years.
My conclusion is that, quite by accident, I created a new environment in which the very things formerly preventing me from writing became the forces driving me inexorably toward it.
In other words, not only did I stop fighting my nature, but to borrow Lisa Cron’s favorite adjective, I endorsed it with a full-throated Yes!
Harnessing the Caregiving Impulse
For example, I’ve spoken before about my tendency to get into caregiver mode and place others’ needs above my own. I use acts of service as a way of showing esteem and affection. When in this mindset, taking the time to write fiction can seem the ultimate act of selfishness.
But what if the desire to serve can be harnessed for the good of the book? What if the desire to caregive can be fed directly into the creative impulse? [Read more…]