Sunday, November 17, 2013

"Don't Hold On To Desire" And "Always Say Yes"

Well, my plan to blog my experience at the Falling Leaves Novel Master Class went up in smoke when I couldn't get on-line while I was there. This was due to my inability to control my new laptop and make it understand that I am the boss, because other participants were getting on-line with no problem. This is too bad because I had an initial post planned about how 70 percent of any writer excursion is getting there in the first place. I'll have to save it for another trip. And now I can wring more blog posts out of the experience, because I've had time to overthink it. This is what people mean when they say, "It's all good."

I was able to deal with the collapse of my blogging plan because the whole mindfulness/do not hold on to desire (as in a desire for how things are supposed to be) thing is becoming a science for me, an absolute science, I tell you. Another big factor in the success of my weekend was the book I was listening to in the car, Bossypants by Tina Fey. Fey has a background in improvisational comedy, and listed some basic improv rules, only one of which I remember, "Always say yes." As in, yes, I will build on whatever my improv partner shoots my way. She sees this as a life skill, by the way, which can be used in many situations. "Don't hold on to desire" and "Always say yes" were big factors in the success of this weekend.

I had a fantasy about what this retreat would be. It involved intensely working on my manuscript with other writers who were working on theirs in some kind of monastic situation while one of the editors in attendance walked among us doing the "When you can take this stone from my hand, grasshopper" spiel. I do not know where this came from. It was delusional. By the time I went to bed Friday night (I've included a picture of my bedroom--and yes, I am slovenly--because I love that kind of behind-the-scenes stuff.), I realized that wasn't going to happen. We were 35 writers  working in reading and responding workshops, not the sweatshop of my dreams. There was a lot of weekend left, and I made a conscious effort to let go of my desire for things to be one particular way because it seemed like the best new plan at the time.

Now, Saturday morning we divided up into critique groups, and in the afternoon we each had a twenty-five minute individual critique with an editor. This is where Tina Fey's "Always say yes" came into play. In order to get anything from critiques, you have to be willing to say yes. Probably not to everything that's said to you, especially when you're in a group where some of the feedback could be contradictory, because you would go nuts. But overall, you have to take the attitude that yes, something here could do me some good.

In this case, "Always say yes" is similar to the zenny/martial arts admonition to "Maintain the mind of a beginner." The beginner who knows little has opportunities to learn. The really knowledgeable are kind of scre...ah, out of luck...because if you know it all, what more is there for you to gain? Not a good situation to be in.

I almost did that to myself in the afternoon while working with my editor, Mallory Kass of Scholastic. She's talking about wanting to know my protagonist's problem, and I'm thinking, Oh, problem, problem, problem, that is so cliched. (Please, God, don't let me have said that out loud, though I suppose it's too late to be praying for that now.) All of a sudden, as we're batting thoughts around, I come up with the beginning of something that is desire/problem like enough to be a desire/problem but new enough to keep me happy. This could, indeed, add depth and maybe even some more logic to the manuscript in question.

At the last minute, I managed to "say yes" and "maintain the mind of a beginner." The picture to the left shows the spot where I worked for an hour and a half revising my first chapter after talking with Mallory.

Today on the way home, I listened to the rest of Bossypants. Fey talks about working with Alec Baldwin. She said something along the lines of  "Working alongside Alec may not make me a better actor, but now I know why I'm bad."* This weekend's retreat may not make me a better writer, but now I know why I'm bad. With many skill-oriented activities, knowing why you're bad is a big step toward becoming less bad.

Lots more retreat thoughts to come.

*Remember, I was listening to an audiobook. Quote is pulled from my memory.

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