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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Thursday, May 17, 2007

instructor, instruct thyself

Another night of too little sleep. When I wake my mind is crowded with gloomy, disturbing thoughts. I finally rose at 3:10 to pour myself a whisky, and sitting up in the dark allowed the fire-water to remind me of a more carefree way of looking at things. The mind becomes too inefficient to trouble itself.

You need to show signs of believing in yourself. Interestingly, that's not exactly the same as actually believing in yourself. Based on my observations, people, in developing an opinion of or an attitude toward you, take their lead from you. For example, if you see yourself as being attractive and interesting, most people will probably go along with that. In general we all have difficulty forming independent opinions about anything--it's a lot of work, and it exposes us to risk ("What? You're nuts!"). It's easier to take cues from others around us, and just work with those unless they cause us serious difficulty.

It's the same for any major speculative endeavor, such as writing a long work of fiction. I believe one's own attitude toward it is key to forming others' attitudes toward it. This was one of the thoughts pressing in on me last night: my own nagging and seemingly incurable doubts may be poisoning my very prospects for success. You need to become that fanatical, obsessed crackpot who has unshakable faith that his Thing is going to be a huge success, no matter how objectively unlikely that seems. I'm not sure that such an attitude actually will make the Thing successful, but I believe the attitude will help you finish the Thing.

I think back to when I was a practicing meditation instructor. A student once expressed doubts that she could ever experience a more confident, awake way of being. I told her that from my own observations over a couple of years, the meditation practice had already had a big effect on her--but she didn't believe me, since she didn't see it herself.

So I suggested that she "fake it till you make it."

She nodded. "Fake it till you make it," she said.

Of course, "faking it" is the antithesis of a Buddhist approach to life. I was trying to suggest that her nervous self-criticism and self-doubt were actually the sham; they were the act that she couldn't give up. By "pretending" that she had already "made it", she could give herself permission to take a vacation from that sham, and perhaps see that it was unnecessary. Indeed, her behavior was already more confident and awake; her self-doubt was based only on a habitual way of seeing herself.

My student really liked that advice. She didn't have to wait until some ironclad, unmistakable proof of her realization came along; she could experiment with acting like a realized person. In some sense the difference between acting confident and being confident is just a slight adjustment of viewpoint. There's no practical difference between the two. The real point of my advice was: "relax."

Now I need to let my erstwhile student reach out and teach me.

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  • Last night I had a similar sort of realization.

    In the past weeks I've thrown out the chunk of a novel I was working on -- I didn't like the voice, and I thought I had rushed it, and botched the story in the process.

    Then, two nights ago, after about 2 months of not writing a word, I started the new draft. I felt great, confident -- I was on the path.

    Then doubt came, self-criticism, fear of failure.

    Then I watched my Buffalo Sabres play hockey, and find myself screaming at them to have confidence -- when they play with confidence they can just dominate. I had already had 2 gin and tonics, and, in that bit of alcoholic buzz, I realized that advice would do well if applied to myself.

    Just like you say to have faith and believe the Thing will be the best there's been, well, I guess that is a way of saying go out there with confidence, to trust yourself, your ideas, your talent -- otherwise you're always going to perform sub par.

    Thanks for sharing your own take on it, coincidentally on the same evening that I had my own!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at May 17, 2007 8:32 AM  

  • Many thanks, anon. I appreciate your sharing your own experience on this. It is an interesting coincidence.

    Uh-oh. Does this mean that my surrogate is--was--the Vancouver Canucks?

    By Blogger paulv, at May 17, 2007 10:09 AM  

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