Friday, January 4, 2013

The Gray Rock: Ambivalence and the Writing Process

Christine Little-English


The ability to write will lead to an ambivalence about doing it.

This phenomena is positive since it means that there isn’t a sharp dualism in the act of writing. It is neither terrific nor frightening to be engaged in writing; to write constitutes neither a success nor a potential failure. Writing is simply an act one does, something I am doing. It is a motion in time. It is as beautiful and as basic as mindfully breathing.

It is an ambivalent productivity.

The trick about experiencing this state of ambivalent productivity is that you can become doubtful of the writing because it doesn’t contain that outburst of joy and relief you might expect. You might even want those emotional sensations as a sort of reward for all your struggle. Additionally, you can start believing that what you're writing is worthless or boring because some excitement is not accompanying the ability to write. Your perception of the content of your work can be negatively affected.

It is crucial to not expect that a sensation of thrill will accompany your sudden ability to write.

It’s especially important to remember this idea after a period of time has passed in which you were (seemingly) unable to write anything.

Another quality must fuel the ability to continue the writing project: the acceptance of the way things are being expressed and a belief in the goodness of that communication. If you are entertaining the added thought that you expect a thrill, you are detracting from the writing. Any thoughts of ambition, excitement, or even disappointment are extraneous material which lessens a concentrated experience of writing. Zen master Suzuki wrote, “when you do something, you should do it with your whole body and mind; you should be concentrated on what you do. You should do it completely, like a good bonfire.”

Sometimes after a difficult stretch in which writing does not happen to my satisfaction, I have had to remind myself that what is important is to not become excited about this reappearance of my ability to write.

Instead, I should use equanimity and see how in the moment, writing is the necessary thing to do. By necessary, I do not mean that writing is special or virtuous, but instead that it is the activity which is just happening right now. Its happening is linked inextricably with that moment.

When we realize the naturalness of writing to the particular moment in our lives, we are completely absorbed by the task. We forget all worries, personal or those explicitly related to our writing goals. Hours pass. Writing hardly exhausts us because we are so at peace with it. To be exhausted by writing would be as nonsensical as being tired from just sitting in a chair.

Choices arise naturally, such as whether to add this sentence or delete that adjective.

Our hands feel warm leaning on the alphabet of the keyboard. It is often at such writing moments that totally unexpected new material and ideas arise. This is when we start to feel “inspired.” We can begin whole new creative directions after achieving ambivalence and calm in writing.

The risk is that we can overvalue this calming process in itself. We can falsely fixate upon trying to achieve calm as a vehicle to write. When writers rely on routines or addiction in order to stimulate a prolific experience, they are essentially trying to recreate that inner calm and ambivalence. To do so will inevitably cause the opposite effect, leaving the writer blocked and frustrated.

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