Amber Michelle (myaru) wrote,
Amber Michelle

Fighting Tofu (or: eating my words.)

There are things in life (usually on the internet, in this case, but sometimes in print) that kick on my reflexive do not want filters, for example: motivational speaking, extreme optimism, holier-than-thou tone, unasked-for advice. I am extremely resistant to the concept of talking oneself into positivity - telling yourself the world is wonderful, that you are a wonderful person, that you can do it, that you believe in yourself. It isn't that I object to the idea of believing in myself, but rather that I think the above technique isn't reliable and generates false confidence. I find this particularly grating in the New Age reading some members of my family do, because it isn't about solving one's problems, reflecting, planning - it's about "opening yourself to the power of the universe" and then sitting and waiting for good things to happen.

This is relevant, because when I'm confronted with, say, a motivational essay related to writing, I immediately associate it with somebody's New Age pep talk and dig my heels in. For the record, I'm not dissing new age stuff... much. Maybe I've seen the wrong examples, that's all. And unfortunately, I developed a deeply-rooted, violent knee-jerk reaction to it. I apologize if the comparison offends anyone.

Years ago a friend of a friend suggested Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones for my writing blocks. It just so happened Zach had a copy, but the moment he told me it wasn't instruction, so much as motivational talk for getting the words down, I gave up on the idea completely and didn't look back until a couple of months ago, when a writer friend of mine suggested the same book and went into more detail with her description. Her testimony was more convincing than just a recommendation; the idea of filling a spiral notebook a month with whatever comes out of your brain isn't a new idea to me, as we were told to do something similar in every writing class I've ever taken, but seeing how much it helped her made me want to look at the material that instructed her to take that step. So I'm only about thirty pages in, but finding the book overall very helpful and yes-- even inspiring. The subject line is a title from a chapter on resistance, and just the title, and the meaning accompanying it, brought an issue of mine to the forefront of my mind. It goes like this:

Katagiri Roshi has a wonderful term: "fighting tofu." ... It is dense, bland, white. It is fruitless to wrestle with it; you get nowhere.

The author is talking about mental resistance when trying to write, here, and after a few more paragraphs she ends the chapter with a list of things she does to get herself writing when she might not feel like it otherwise - positive things, not punitive. I learned to do three out of six on my own; four, if you convert "fill a spiral notebook" with "meet a writing quota," as they're similar, but not exactly the same. There's a reason to do it by hand, with a notebook, but that's not what this is about. What is this about? My realization that I have a pattern when it comes to writing advice, and it's not self-destructive, exactly, but it's also not helpful.

First, the writing advice itself. "Make a workshop appointment with a friend to motivate yourself," or "Write through your blocks, write every day, and someday the words will come no matter when or where you sit down to type," that sort of thing. Things that are true, maybe, possibly, but are phrased in a way that triggers my reflex to back away. I know I'll think of better examples in a day or two; these are lacking and not quite what I had in mind originally.

Then, my reaction: dismissal. Complete, utter shutdown. I don't need that advice. I don't want that advice. I know how to write, and I even know how to make myself write in a bad mood. I don't need somebody telling me to sit down at the same time every morning to work in order to achieve that.

Eventually this comes to bite me in the ass. See here, where I backpedal after years of scoffing at the idea of drafts, or the very idea of needing (or wanting!) to write seven drafts of the same story to get what I want out of the deal.

This happens often. Too often. Calling what I reject "advice" might be a bit off, as it's not always advice that I'm spurning, but the voice of experience, or some similar concept. I've never considered that I might still think of myself as a special snowflake, since in many ways I don't; I know I'm not the best writer ever, I realize I'm socially awkward, I know I'm judgmental of myself and others, etc. I know that sometimes I'm still the worst prima donna. But apparently I didn't realize that I'm resistant to the idea that somebody might know better than I do. I think it comes from my belief that I know my own writing process better than anybody else; by that logic, how can anybody tell me how to work? I'll figure it out on my own!

And I do-- a year later. Maybe two.

All of this occurred to me as I was reading that chapter, Fighting Tofu, and realized that I came to the same conclusions she did about self-motivation, but it took me much longer to do it than it would have simply to read her book - but even if I had read it, I probably would have dismissed the chapter as nonsense, something I didn't need.

So does this mean I'll be learning everything the hard way? Since reading this - and I think the realization has been creeping up on me for a while - I've tried to be more open-minded. Picking up the book at all is an effort to do so. But how many times, I wonder, am I reflexively dismissing things I shouldn't when I'm not aware?

Figuring things out on your own isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes you need to know where that wisdom is coming from. But sometimes it also helps to take advice and avoid unnecessary detours.
Tags: public: writing
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