Friday, September 5, 2008

Work leads to Magic

The other day, I had a wonderful visit with Abdi Assadi, my friend and

acupuncturist (and author of the inspiring book, Shadows on the Path).
I had come in for a tune-up and for assistance in calming what (in
meditation circles) is known as "monkey mind" (Baboon Lady, any
comments?!) Monkey mind is familiar to us all: it's when the brain
jumps crazily from one random thought to the next, the way a monkey
swings from tree to tree, without focus, unable to stay in the present

Though I meditate (and highly recommend Insight Meditation -- book and
cds -- by Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein), I am still, like
everyone, at times, a prisoner of my own mind. (Note to self: how can
I use my hatred of mimes to turn my own big-mouthed brain into a
silent, minimally costumed actor, whom I can ignore?)

Uh … ANYWAY, I've been making progress, but like most of us, I want
that progress to happen faster, and I fear that it won't!! Although on
my best days I can somehow merge my Type A personality with my B
Positive blood type. On my bad days I feel like I've just gotten a
blood transfusion from a gorilla on crack.

Seeing Abdi was a validation of what a rabbi once called "The Long,
Long Road" (as opposed to the short long road -- the one we think will
be faster but which inevitably leads to the need to go back and walk
the steps we skipped). I've known him for eleven years and this week
he told me, "You've been doing the work, and from the work comes the

This is a mantra I can hang my magician's hat on!

And as a magician type, I can honestly tell you, I've had more tricks
that have gone wrong, than have gone right. (No disrespect to the
lovely lady of the evening from 10th Avenue, circa 1932 … we were just
two ships passing in the night). The thing about magic (and Houdini,
the master, knew this well) is that it is all preparation, and timing.
Yes, there is a magic -- an element of surprise for sure, and an
element of mystical convergence (I strongly suspect), that makes it
all come together. But the work comes first; it is the essential,
crucial element.

Abdi commented that oftentimes people think he has some secret; I knew
exactly what he meant, as sometimes I experience that too.The real
secret is (again) hard work leads to magic.

For those of you who are curious about (Jungian) astrology, you can
peruse an essay on the narrative astrology section of my site (see
"FUN" page), which illuminates the archetypal associations of the
planet Saturn. In one sentence, here's the dope on the ringed planet's

Make a commitment to your goal and a realistic plan to attain it, then
do your work consistently and consciously.
Whether it's a writing goal or a personal goal, I am always amazed by
how this attitude, this embrace of hard work, (good hard work -- like
buying a solid home and doing the work of making it beautiful)
inevitably leads to magic. The magic of a beautiful, livable home. The
magic of a piece of writing you can be proud of.

It's easy on your worst day to look at someone (on their best day), as
having good luck, or some secret power. But what if the secret is in
the work, work that can be done (if you are a writer) by BANGING THE

The thing about being a writer is that this business is 99% rejection,
much like the business of acting. The business end is impossible to
control. We might (and should) work at things for years, and it might
take years for a "pay off". And during those years of toiling it can
be a real test of faith, because what if the payoff doesn't come? Such

But here is one answer I will stand by: what we control is our own
commitment to sitting down and doing the work.

And in that spirit, here's a little exercise! Please send comments and
let me know what you think. Bang the keys!

Exercise: Set a goal for six weeks from today. What would you like to
have accomplished, in terms of a piece of writing? Make that goal
humble. Even more humble. Whatever you have just come up with -- cut
it in half. Incremental is the word of the day. Write down your goal
on your calendar (one draft of a chapter, OR six polished pages.
Something very doable -- IF you do it). Then come up with a writing
schedule that entails six uninterrupted, un-Internet-surfing hours a
week. Write them in your calendar. Certainly nothing (external) is
stopping you from doing more. But how about trying less is more first,
just to see how you handle yourself? That's it, people! Work leads to



Shotmonster said...

I can tell you from personal experience that nothing is more true then work leads to inspiration. A year ago I was storyless, had hit a dry patch of horrific proportions. I decided I had to get serious. I work hard, don't have a lot of time for writing, so I committed myself to 500 words a day (or 45 minutes of rewrite/revision). I've stuck with it. The result? Slow at first, but when you force yourself to write, you find inspiration. I've written over 50 short stories since then. A dozen of them are actually pretty good, and I've published two. A year ago, nothing, today, writing my ass off. All because I forced myself to write my ass off. Keep up the good work, Jilly!

FifiFoFum said...

Sweet blog, Jill D!!!
Luv the title & premise, but--honestly--I mean, am I the only key Tapper out here? Do most others BANG theirs? How do yr laptops withstand the beatings? Thoughts, folks?
Thx for the 6 wk plan exercise. Increments I think lead most steadfastly to prosaic accomplishment. Out comes my calendar...
Much peace,

sankalp rawal said...

you are right and this is the only thing that we have in our hands.
i am getting to this habit of meditaing 15 min at night daily and it makes me feel good and trust.
i wish to bring this to writing.
i will take up your six week challenge.
thanks for the post
i will update you with my progress.


Jill Dearman said...

hey and congrats to you on your latest publication, shotmaster. not for kids, no, but for me, yes!

Zoola said...

Back when I was beginning to write my screenplay Jill and I worked out a deal similar to this... setting a simple goal and sticking with it. I am a slow writer, so not biting off more than I could chew allowed me to suceed on an incremental basis, feeling good about my self rather than beating myself up for "not doing enough." What I found was, my productivity did go way up, and as things proceeded I actually began to kick into a higher gear. I applied this same method when I was shooting and editing the film, and now it is almost complete. Sometimes looking at the whole task at once can be so discouraging as to prevent you from proceeding at all, but when you set small goals and stick to them, you find you really get stuff done. It's like the old AA mantra, "one day at a time." I highly recommend this exercise to anyone who feels intimidated by beginning a big project!

Stan said...

I cannot think of anyone I admire--from afar or up-close--who has not been nearly pummeled to death by rejection and yet somehow miraculously survived. The Innocent (or the Untouched), however pretty, all look the same to me. The Experienced are the stunning ones, and I could never mistake one of them for another.

Baboon Lady said...

As one who suffers from the distractions of a monkey mind set, this procrastinating primate owes her productive prose to the wise guidance of Jill Dearman. Meditation and commitment to a structured writing schedule help keep my thoughts from wildly swinging in every direction but the most important one: sitting down and banging out the keys! Keep inspiring us, Jill. Without you, it's a jungle out there!