There is Nothing But the Practice

“To cook or fix some food, is not preparation; it is practice….Whatever we do, it should be an expression of the same deep activity. We should appreciate what we are doing. There is no preparation for something else.” – Dogen (1200-1252

Ever have one of those times when you get the same message from three different directions?

Let’s start with that quote up there – shared by way of Tim Ferriss’ excellent Five-Bullet Fridays newsletter. I halfway suspect that George Lucas read that and shortened it into Yoda’s famous “Do. Or do not. There is no try.

It’s kind of fatalistic, at first. There is no preparation for something else. That means there is no “happily ever after”, no riding off into the sunset, no rolling credits and sweeping orchestral piece by James Horner.

Then it becomes a bit more freeing, when you think about it more deeply. If the practice is all there is, then you can enjoy it thoroughly – in fact, you might have your best practice at any moment! Think of it: this could be the best blog post I will ever write. Ever. And what does that mean? Most people look at it as a “glass half empty” kind of thing – things will never be this good again.

But doesn’t it also mean that I sat down at the computer often enough, practiced the craft of blogging and stringing words together long enough that I was able to realize the ultimate expression of my craft that I was capable of? So what if I never make my “personal best” again – isn’t that what “personal best” means in the first place?

No, pity the person who gives up and never reaches that pinnacle of achievement. That’s the person that we should feel sorry for.

Depressing News From Successful Writers

I attended a panel discussion by three professional writers. Two wrote non-fiction, and one wrote for TV. They were at the top of their particular fields, and the awards they had accumulated included several Emmies and a lifetime achievement or two. They were there to talk about what it’s like to be a professional writer.

It was pretty bleak.

Remember, these were people at the top of their fields – but both of the “book” authors were not even close to making a living off their books. Nope, they had day jobs. Even more, they didn’t have any fancy systems, new computer apps, or visualizing meditations that would turn you into the next Rowling.

How can I learn to be a writer?

“Writing can be taught – but really, it can only be self-taught.”

How do I find ideas?

“Your experience as a human being is valid. There’s your book.”

How do I get past writer’s block?

“Writer’s block is advanced notification you’re gonna write something bad. Write it anyway.”

How do I find the time to write?

“There’s no excuse for not writing. Sit your ass down, and fuckin’ write.”

How much help was your publisher when it came to marketing and publicity?

(Hysterical laughter from all three, one of whom makes a zero sign with her hand).

How do I finish a book, the editing and rewrites and stuff I hate?”

“You need to be your own publishing house. Deadlines help.”

In Other Words, You’re On Your Own

That last question was one that I asked, and like the others, it basically comes down to this: you’re on your own. As someone who struggles to balance current content with pushing completed content out the door and juggling all the hats involved in self-publishing, I confess it was a little disheartening at first. I had this dream of getting “noticed”, of having someone edit my books, design the covers, plan the distribution book tour, book my travel, arrange the Oprah and Tim Ferriss interviews, etc.

Nope. These were people with contracts from Simon & Schuster and the like, and they were saying: there is no help here.

Then again, that means that I am doing the best I can do. I have made several hundred dollars from my books; that’s more than many authors. I have complete rights to them, I get to decide where they go, who reads them, and what is done with their content. That’s a level of control that many other authors dream of.

In other words, there is no “success” on the horizon. I’ve already succeeded. Instead, there is practice. Continuing to write the next book, the next post, the next article. If my next book makes more money, great. If not, great. The only sadness is if it is unrealized for no particularly good reason.

What are you practicing? And more to the point: what are you waiting for?

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