Monday, August 14, 2006

The Peaceful Warrior

I'd seen the book "The Peaceful Warrior", but never actually read it. However, I just saw the movie and it generated lots of thought, as I'm sure it was meant to. It's no wonder our city chose to show it at the art movie theater; this isn't one of those movies where you just go, laugh, applaud or otherwise enjoy and never have to think too much. This one's meant to make you pay attention and then go home and rethink your life.

That's right, Obi Wan.

How many of us go through our lives without actually living them? Do we pay attention to the minutiae of things and people around us, or do we pass them without ever allowing them to really touch us? Maybe Dan Millman is right. Maybe many of us aren't so much living as just going through the motions, chasing all the wrong dreams. Or chasing the right dreams for the wrong reasons.

This is especially true of writing, but it's complicated. If the one thing you really, truly love is writing and you're not in it for the money, you've got it made. But what if your life purpose is to share your stories, share your truths and visions with other people and you can only do that by getting published? Sure, writing makes you happy, but is it doing any good in the world if no one outside of your family and crit group ever gets to read it? Maybe. Maybe just sharing it with a finite group of people is enough. But if Dan Millman hadn't gotten The Peaceful Warrior published, how many people would have been able to share his incredible experience or read the story that only he could tell? Not too many, in the grand sceme of things. So in a sense, we have a bit of a paradox. You do the thing you're destined to do, the one thing that really gives you goose bumps, but you never get to share it with more than about eight people unless you just publish it online, which still doesn't reach half the people you hope to reach. You write because you love it, but you also feel deep down in your soul that there's supposed to be more to it. It isn't supposed to be just for you.

Ok, I'm talking about myself here, but I'm sure there are hundreds to thousands of other writers out there who also see themselves in the above paragraph. So how do we address the paradox?

Would you still write even if you were never to get published? Would you actually be able to just set down your pen or leave your keyboard and never attack anything more ambitious than email? If the answer is yes, then you have it easy. But if the answer is no, then you already know you love it too much to stop. Someday they'll probably find you permanently asleep at your keyboard, hopefully after having typed the last line of the last chapter of your very last book. If that sounds like you, then you're pretty much stuck. You'll have to keep writing, and giving it up just isn't an option, publisher's contract or no.

So where does that leave you? What would the peaceful warrior's answer be? I don't know. I don't have all the answers or even a good fraction of them. But maybe it would be something like this: Maybe it doesn't really matter whether you become a famous novelist. Maybe that's the totally wrong goal to shoot for. If, like Dan learned, the journey is far more important than the destination, then maybe it's about putting everything you are into every keystroke. Maybe it's about being fully present with and committed to every word you write. Maybe it's about never doing less than your absolute best, no matter what the rewards might or might not be. If you focus on the minutiae of your writing, on honing your craft, on doing what you love and making every word a labor of love, then maybe all the rest of it will fall into place, if that's what's supposed to happen for you. And if it's not, then where are your regrets? Are you proud of the job you did? Did you love it, did it bring you joy? Then you've made at least one person happy--maybe the most important person. And if you find joy in doing what you love, then you're sure to bring joy to others, simply because joy seems to multiply itself when turned outward. As above, so below. Or another way to think of it: as within, so without.

Maybe it works. Either way, it sure beats the heck out of being depressed because none of the books in your shelves have your name on the spine.

4 comments:

bonniers said...

Wow, thanks for that. How did you know I needed a pep talk?

Maripat said...

Timely essay. Thank you for sharing that.

Adrian Swift said...

Very well put! Yes, recognizing this paradox, as you describe it, is something that a lot of writers, or would-be writers, must be able to relate to.

I agree with you that those who dabble in it and can stop writing are the lucky ones, since they aren't hooked.

Those of us who try to stop and can't, who know we must keep writing, must somehow make our peace with the "why" of it. Not everyone is desinted to become a successful, published novelist. However, there is much we can do if we want to pursue that. I think the biggest ingredient in creating such success is a willingness to change and grow. If we aren't currently writing stuff that is commercial and publishable, and yet we want to be published, then we must be willing to learn what that means, where we are, where we want to be, and what we must do to get from here to there. Growth is essential. One becomes a successful writer, and that through hard work.

However, not everyone who writes is motivated to grow and change, to learn new things, to give up pre-existing impressions of what it's "supposed" to be like to be a writer. I think it's perfectly acceptable for someone to write as a hobby and not care at all about being published commercially. It's a perfectly valid pursuit in and of itself, a personal journey. But that is "personal writing", not "commercial writing". There is a definite difference.

There is no "right" answer. Everyone must follow his or her own path. "Know Thyself", as the saying goes. If you seek to be published, be willing to work hard and grow and change to become that sort of writer, the sort you need to be who is capable of turning out fiction of the caliber that it needs to be in order to be published. If you seek only to write for the sake of writing, and don't really care about publication, then enjoy that journey, that process, and share it with those who matter to you, and don't feel guilty about it. After all, you could be playing handball, or painting in oil on canvas, or repairing old motorcycles, or whatever else that people do for fun. Hobbies are whatever you make them.

Best wishes for every writer to realize his or her potential in whatever way is meaningful to him or her.

Dany said...

Hey there. I just saw the movie yesterday. It was great. I have been feeling so bad for the past 2 years and when i saw the movie it makes me feel great. I want to know if someone knows where i can download the ebook "Peaceful Warrior"