I became a writer when I was blooming into my mid-20’s. And I wish so much I’d had Gateless back then and, most especially, a Gateless Academy.
I did not know what I was doing. I thought I would just take a year off to play on the page, to put the stories in my mind down on paper, and then I would go back and work at something pragmatic, become anything that seemed steady and reasonable.
I had quit my job and committed to the word because my restlessness for writing was so acute, it felt almost sensual, a kind of driving need. With a little money saved, I took off from a solid career, flung out my proverbial shoes and headed barefoot down the road to pursue a dream that people tell you is crazy. It is crazy, only in that it defies the logic of a society that is afraid of the mystery of art. Our agenda-driven culture tends to plug us with the idea that without the known, we are lost.
Many years later, I am still here and my entire life is made of the word and the beauty of that medium, which is ever-giving, ever-abundant, an incredible force that can carry your life if you let it.
We are lucky, those of us who fall in love with the word. We have within us a source that makes us feel richly, amazingly ALIVE. When you sit down to a blank page, Gateless style, and begin to write, a whole universe wakes up inside you. You remember the spunk and the soul, the fever of experience. You are in a full-blown electrifying act of creation that has the power to move a crowd and can aid personal actualization in a shamanic journey of epic proportions that can surprise and astound you. And yet we rise, bewildered, from this sublime experience and so often...we begin to judge it.
The Conditioned, Critical Voice:
The critic is not usually active in the act of writing. The critic comes alive when you are not writing. The conditioned uncreative mind--so revered in Western culture and so addicted to stasis and the known--rises to meet the self and say, “Are you sure about this?” And: “You are too old for this or too broken or too too too...” And: “Why are you doing this? Who do you think is going to read this? Who do you think you are? Why are you spending your resources on this?” and so on…
You have just had a coital experience through the divinity of the written word and the conditioned mind wants to put a noose around it and drag it into the city square for some lashing.
These conditioned voices are, of course, a great liability to your writing and to your mastery of it. They disrupt commitment to the craft. Under the voice of criticism, the floor of the work begins to cave. Your foundation gets shaky. While the Academy can shore you up with craft and resources and give you bi-weekly deadlines so you write write write, Gateless as a methodology addresses the u-turns that the critical mind can make.
Sickness, the death of someone close to you, loss of a job, moving, pandemics and all those external, sometimes traumatic, factors are not usually u-turns, those are actually fodder for more writing when the storm passes.
U-turns are more internal. U-turns happen because we have been told--or learned from societal osmosis--that we were too much of this and not enough of that, calm down, simmer down, stop that, don’t draw like that, don’t sing that loud, red marks and x’s and fixes and wrongs.
U-turns are born from cultural and familial conditioning that tell us the foundation of our work is not okay.
We make u-turns because we have been taught to fear the mystery, the unknown. We have been taught to fear the rooms in the soul that have been barred and locked because someone of some repute or authority said that if we went in there and brought out the richness inside those rooms, we would be disinherited from the herd.
We have not been taught to sling open all the doors and surrender to the power and beauty of what moves through us.
How Mastery Works:
The overarching culture does not teach mastery as an art form. The overarching culture teaches control. It tells us we should be able to manifest every single thing we want, to control outcomes with marketing, good copy and a lot of strategy. That your will, alone, can make you thin, rich and extremely productive.
That is not the way the creative works, and so Gateless does not subscribe to that.
The creative thrives not on judgement, agenda and control, but on resources, skills, tools and understanding what we are inside of in terms of craft. The creative knows that craft is a never- ending ribbon of knowledge that you could learn for the rest of your life. And it is excited by that.
Creative mastery is not born from strangling the work early, into being a viable “something”. Creative mastery is about being able to take those skills and resources and be in the mystery of your work. Mastery and Myster--only a letter apart Creative mastery is opening window after window in the form of inquiry and asking the questions that lead you to the richness that makes your story.
It’s true: publication, money and fame often come as a result of diving into craft and adventuring into the rich rooms of the creative soul, but these tangibles we so often crave are only a byproduct of being in love with your art and wanting to swim inside of absolutely everything it is and can be.
The “I do”:
Saying yes to writing as a mastery is a marriage, not a romance, a deep dive into a fantastic love that is complex and sometimes messy and can ram against your hardest edge.
You are saying “I do” to one of the most giving arts in the world. Writing is a medium that can be consumed by almost everyone, for how easily it is shared and moved.
In order for the gifts to come from your writing, you must take it by the hand and say, “Hey sweetheart, through thick or thin…” You must dive deep in until you can feel the comfort and the unconditional love that is the relationship with the word.
Writing has already done this with you. You cannot lose the muse, it’s always with you. It is the human attention that wavers, wants the glitter before the relationship and has trouble sitting with the depth and complexity of mastery.
How you show up for your relationship with writing is how you show up to everything else in the world. It is an art that gives you a grand mirror. Writing allows us to answer these questions:
Do I take time out for my love?
Do I stick it out when things get hard?
Do I know not to try to define my love too early or strangle it into “something”?
Am I willing to get messy with its complexity instead of passing it off to someone else?
Am I curious about where we can go together?
Am I willing to provide for it: resources, tools, skills, practice, community and time?
Can I surrender to falling deeply in love with it?
You have already answered yes to all these questions by saying yes to The Academy.
Tender + Gentle:
It’s good never to judge the self. Writing is also a relationship with the self. As a little bitty baby, you didn’t come into this world with the conditioning that builds the construct for the critic. Go easy. Tender. Gentle. Resource and forgive. Simply notice if the self gets frustrated when the work or the Academy or the facilitator or your writing partners or the feedback doesn’t look a certain way. Notice the voice of resistance and how it can block the creative flow.
That’s just brain science: start to judge, and the creative shuts down. Open up again--with a sense of wonder and curiosity--and trust in the creative self that brought you here, and the creative flows again. There’s no real puzzle to it. See-saw goes up, see-saw goes down. Judgment goes up, creativity goes down. Judgment goes down, creativity goes up.
You know you are in the critic because it will think in “shoulds” (“this should be different”) and absolutes. Opinion becomes fact. Just notice when the critic rises. Notice is a beautiful word. It’s a soft word. It is putting the attention on something. That is all you have to do. Noticing gives you some space from it so that you can find the creative again.
I am not perfect. The Academy is not perfect. You are not perfect. Your writing is not perfect. The pods are not perfect. The people in your life are not perfect. The feedback isn’t perfect. The container breaks. Your life gets crazy. We are afraid. We are bold. We say too much. We say too little. We make “mistakes”. We are all deeply, very interestingly flawed. And if the critic wants all the edges lined up and every i dotted and all the clothes folded neatly in color coordinated rows in the top bureau drawer, well then, the critic might be going for one hell of a ride. Cause the literary creative is so often about impulse and innovation, it is about being messy and unkempt, about the wild unleashing of the untamed self in its most limitless capacity, it is about breaking it all open so the light of genius can burst in.
Nothing has to look a certain way. There are no shoulds.
Writing is a raft. You are on the bank of a very beautiful river. The birds are singing and the flowers are blooming and the sun is shining. The raft waits before you, patient. You step on, you take the paddle the raft offers, as sentry. You see in your mind’s eye a kind of blueprint, a lightly etched map of where you are going. With a compass whose directions you don’t quite understand, you begin.
You move with the current of the river, you are shown the way through helping hands, you eat delicious food, dance, have love affairs, dive into memory, see the future, all while this gorgeous raft carries you. You have committed to take this ride. And if you stay on, you will have moments in your work where you are not just riding the raft, you are it, moving with the current, making sense of life that is happening on land from a very astute vantage point, through the lens of prophet and poet.
Do not step back, shake your head and say, “No thank you, I am on solid ground now, I do not want to know the jewels that this journey holds.” Grip tenderly that strange oar, the paddle. Let it callus your hand at first, then feel how the grain of the wood wears and softens and finally molds to your palm. And start to trust your odd compass, the sketched map in your mind, and this sturdy vessel that is different and unique from every other vessel in the world, and just begin….