The Friendly World

If you’ve ever watched a world-class sprinter sprint, you may have noticed how relaxed his face muscles are. In fact, although a sprinter must use every muscle in his body to propel himself as fast he can, he must do so in a state of focused relaxation. In this way a sprinter allows himself to run as fast as they can run. The same is true of singers. The temptation when trying to hit the highest notes would be tighten throat, but in fact just the opposite is true: the more challenging the note, the more you must relax. And so it goes with writing. So many times I have come to passages where I either don’t know what I want to say or am not sure how to say what I want to say and have clamped down, as if I could put my brain in a juicer and wring the right word or scene from it. Yet when I don’t know what I want next it is because I am not relaxed enough, because I am trying too hard—or simply trying period, as if writing were somehow a mountain I have been forced to climb.

In this way, writing does sometimes feel like a test of faith. Jesus said it is all very well and good to love your brother, but go and love your enemy—now you’ve really learned something. Just so it is all very well and good to be loose while it’s flowing, but can I let go when it’s not coming? Can I let go when I don’t know how the story will end, when it’s been several days since it’s flowed, when my agent wants to see the latest draft and it’s not done? Can I let go then?

When all these things are conspiring it feels as if I am on a ship being rocked by waves, and I must absolutely grab hold of the gunnel or be tossed into the ocean. If at this moment I let go without giving up, if at this moment I surrender to not knowing, writing becomes more than a means to share what I wish to share, but instead a portal through which to view life. At this moment it is exactly as if an enemy has been made a friend, that the hounds chasing me were only my loyal companions calling me home.

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