Writing Life

As you may know, in this space I like to explore how 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. I had yet another example of this recently. I had reached a crossroads of sorts in my life where I needed to decide What To Do. Specifically, about money. I don’t tend to think about money very often, but to my own surprise I looked up one day and thought, “Bill, you need more of it.” So there I was.  I had a goal – money – but no road toward it.  First, I did what I have done so often and what has always proved useless: I came up with ideas.  These were things that I could logically do and for which I knew I would be paid. This depressed me and I stopped. I felt as though I was trying to come up with a story whose sole purpose was to make me money.

Next I did what I should have done at the outset, which was stop thinking. Instead, I searched for the feeling that would lead to an idea. Because every idea, every thought, every memory I have or have ever had carries with it – sometimes forcefully, something subtly – a feeling. The idea of meeting a friend is accompanied by a feeling of anticipation and familiarity; the idea of going to the grocery store carries the feeling of productivity with a dash of tedium. So to make more money I sought the feeling I wanted to experience while making the money, and that feeling was what it felt like to help people. Once I had that feeling in me, new ideas started coming.

And what did this process remind me of? Writing, of course. I was starting a new chapter knowing where my characters had to go but not knowing how they’d get there. Whenever I reach such a place in my writing I decide first what I want that chapter to feel like, then let the ideas rise to meet that feeling. So my search for money was precisely the same process but without characters and stories. The characters and stories have never been the point. The point has been aligning action to feeling. My whole life is nothing but what I feel, never what is happening, just as a story is a flow of emotion, not a string of events.

Writing teaches me how to live, and living teaches me how to write. You don’t stop living when you write, and you don’t stop writing when you leave the desk. Rather, you change the expression of your continuous creative desire, from words to recipes, or from stories to money.

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