Polishing Wisdom


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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Starting Over

Starting over comes with laughter and hope. It comes from laughter and hope. This insight arises in me from my daily activity as a writer, where the sport is little more than redoing what was an earlier attempt to communicate. Dreams of perfection must be checked at the door.

Like any sport--be it soccer where we must head or kick the spinning ball to another player or into the net, or archery where the wind, the light, the tension of the bow string and the release effect the flight--the activity of writing is joining in the moment with the muse. . . and accepting the results. 

The source of the muse has never been established. It can be engaged but not known. It feels too vast and bright to come from inside, yet it is too personal for it to reside in the ethers or under the control of another (presumed) entity. So without knowing the mechanics we come each day to the 'dock' ready to jump in. We come naked. Confidence, laughter and carelessness are great friends.

Only when the piece has been thoroughly worked can we begin to have skill with its intent and nuance. This is true in the first chapter of a novel or--if we shrink the project down to an essay or a letter--in the first paragraph. The Trouble with Wisdom had many drafts, each an excursion coming to know the characters and their routes through challenges. And when it was all done, completely understood, it was time to begin with the first line, the first paragraph and scene. Never mind that I had rewritten it fifty times already, now I had to start again, because the first words are the connection to the world.

The antidote to thinking that our work is good and cannot be easily improved is to realize that it is nothing more than words, words that come from the muse. So let go and feel the novel that you know so well. How will it begin? What or who will speak first and how will those words land with the reader? 

It turns out Zhampa's entrance had to wait for several pages. First the Dorjay and the Purbha had to be born in the reader's mind. The young lama had to feel the heft of the gold, had to peel back the brocade and see a thousand years of history gleaming in his hand. He had to pocket them and promise to return them. He had to disappear into the mountains of Tibet.

The opening? "At first light, Selpo Rinpoche woke to the roar of his monastery's warning gong." Ah! The months of work to arrive at such a simple thing--a person, a place, an occurrence, a time and something driving all of them; a warning gong.

I laugh with relief. The manuscript is now in the hands of publishing houses in New York. And I will need to laugh again when a publisher says, "Yes, we'll take it on,  but it will need a little work." Later, I will need to roll in humor when the editor says, "Let's start at the beginning and make it good."

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