I have written often in this space, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, about the idea that what it takes to write the book you most want to write is also what it takes to lead the life you most want to lead. Perhaps no one illustrates this more perfectly than the subject of one of my earlier interviews, Gary Zukav.
During our interview he described how in the middle of his life he was addicted to sex, he was smoking, angry, competitive and, to top things off, living on food stamps. Then he was given a chance to attend a meeting of quantum physicists. He decided to go because, as he described it, he “wanted to find out what a scientist looked like.” He found out more than that. As he listened to the physicists describe waves and particles and energy, a light, as they say, went on inside him. Zukav felt that the theories these men were sharing had ramifications that went far beyond the world of physics.
So Zukav decided he would write a book about quantum physics for the layman. He wasn’t a scientist, he hated math, but he was so impassioned and excited about this project, he woke up every morning eager as a schoolboy to work on it. While he wrote, he said, he “forgot to be angry, forgot to be jealous, forgot to be afraid.” He didn’t want anything to taint what he had come to see as a sacred process. In the end, he wrote The Dancing Wu Li Masters, which went on to win The National Book Award for science, and was a #1 New York Times bestseller.
But more important than that, Zukav learned how he wanted to live. He said that from that moment forward he wanted to live his life as he had while writing The Dancing Wu Li Masters. So there you have it. What it took to write the book he most wanted to write is what it took to live the life he most wanted to live. Or, more precisely, he had found love.
The great thing about writing is you can’t do it for very long unless you love to do it. Yes it can drive you mad when it’s not coming, and yes you can lay awake wondering if it has abandoned you, but you can wonder the same thing about any person you love. I am not learning how to write, I am not learning about characters and setting and pacing, I am learning to hold the balance of love against all the tides of fear, the only lesson I think I have ever had to learn.