The Path


Your most difficult challenge as a writer will be one of motivation–why do you write?  Every serious writer must ask this question, in that dark night of the soul, as Rilke once advised to a young poet, and every writer must face the answer.  What you’ll find when you ask this question (slowly you must ask yourself into a mirror and quickly you must answer) is that there is some sort of goal involved–fame, fortune, publication, recognition from other published and/or artistic writers, love, lust, power, a job, etc.  When we begin treading the path, we have a focal point in the distance that motivates us–a tall tree, a mountain, even climbing up the mountain itself.  But here’s the thing–you’re never going to get to that tall tree, that mountain, or even the top of that mountain.  Not the way you think, anyway.


On a run today, I noticed that the sidewalk which unfurled out ahead of me for almost a mile resembled a tall, skinny pyramid.  I reminded myself that both sides of the sidewalk are parallel, but that, as my own eyes saw it, it seemed that both its sides met at a point. Right away I knew I would never reach the point of this pyramid, that this pyramid would be the same shape no matter how fast or how hard I ran towards it.  I then thought how pitiful it would be if someone were deluded enough in thinking that they could reach the top of this pyramid if only they believed that it could be reached, no matter how insane or crazy the idea was.


Because what’s the first thing mountain climbers do after they reach the apex?  They prepare to climb another one.  There’s nothing wrong with climbing mountains.  Just ask yourself why you do it.  The motive behind our actions is everything.


External objects or ideas aren’t going to make us happy.  Setting goals will only lead you to despair.


Physical, psychological, and spiritual, the path is one of the oldest symbols of our psyche.  When we look at pictures, paintings, or even crude child’s drawings of a path winding through the woods, our first instinct is to want to tread it. It’s one of the oldest, most primitive parts of ourselves.  Tread your path.  But tread it honestly.


Don’t look up too much except to see where you’re heading.  Don’t look back too much except to see where you’ve been.  Keep your head up, your spine straight.  Breathe deep and full, feel your feet connect and push off from the ground, step by step.  Pay attention to the sensual textures of the world around you along the way–the scent of asphalt, the skin of a tree, the whine of a car.  Write every day, read every day, be the best person you can every day.  That’s it.  Every single day, try your best.  Until you die.  Tread the pyramid’s path with honesty.  Don’t quit the path in despair knowing you’ll never reach the top, but also don’t wander off the path in distraction thinking, since you’ll never reach the top, you’ll have all the time in the world.  Yes the top of that pyramid will always be there; you, however, will not be.


You must have urgent patience.  It sounds contradictory; but then, fusing two opposing sides of yourself–the rational mind with the emotional heart–is something we do as writers every single day we work.  Being two different people is who we are.  It’s about balance.


Motivation is essential because the reason you do something will be an important indicator of how you’re treading the path.  Questions of motivation can be addressed every single day, but may take years or even decades to answer truthfully.  And every single time we answer the question of motivation truthfully, our point of view changes and with it, our style.  Keep working at it, cutting away the unnecessary parts of your self, your mind, and your spirit, like trimming a lusciously wild tree.  It’s a switch in motivation, from THAT to THIS; from the THAT of mass publication, book tours, your photo on magazine covers, readings, millions of fans, and movie deals to the THIS of creating and nurturing an art form to its most fullest and most honest potential.  If for only a few lines of THIS type of literature, it would all be worth it.

Once you’ve understood why you write, you can focus then on who you are writing for.  But that, my friends, is another post…

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