To be a writer or a teacher or a creator of your life is to be a translator

Apr 15, 2014

Think about it: when creating anything, you attempt to translate the shadowy bits that dart and loop around your brain, that whistle for your attention and then immediately hide — you attempt to render them into something others can partake of.

Black marks on white paper, teaching exercises, a delicate conversation with a friend — how do you capture the feelings, images, and memories that made you want to communicate in the first place?

There is always a gap between what you want to communicate and what actually comes out.

An extreme example of this gap is when I was in college and I would smoke pot and then be oh-so-certain my ideas were beyond brilliant… this was going to be the best screenplay ever — better than ‘Chinatown’ — then I would try to read my nonsense chicken scratch the next morning.


Giant gap.

A more subtle example is the copy of Rilke poetry on my desk. On the left hand page is the original German, on the right, an English translation. Each says something similar but not exactly the same.

Smaller gap.

One of the most freeing things I teach in all my programs and one of the biggest ideas in TeachNow is that every creator has to learn to live — and, yes, thrive — in the gap.

Living actually happens in the gap.

You actually can’t create any place else. So it behooves you (love that word) to learn to tolerate the discomfort of being in the gap, to see it as normal, to understand that there is nothing to be afraid of, nothing wrong with you.

But what do most of us do? We tell ourselves that being in the gap means that something is wrong.

We tell ourselves real writers never struggle – they get a flicker of an idea and render it whole, like a pig on a spit. Excellent teachers easily create interactive exercises even online. That everybody else can communicate what’s in their hearts with accuracy and ease.

The main difference between a productive writer, engaged teacher, open-hearted human and the rest of us? The productive, engaged, open-hearted humans understand they will very rarely make an exact translation and they keep going anyway.

They also understand that asking, “Is this any good?” or “Did I do a good job?” is an urgent invitation to eat a pint of Coconut Bliss.

Instead, the productive, engaged open-hearted among us focus on what they can do. “I will keep my butt in my chair for 45 minutes and each time my attention wanders to is what I’m writing any good, I will bring it back to my writing.” Or “I will learn how to design 30% interactive content for my next presentation.” Or “I will take two breaths and center myself during my difficult conversation with my friend.”

By focusing on what you can do, you build the trust to hang out in the gap where life actually happens!

You can always create and communicate; you can never predict how well you will do anything. To focus on assessments and outcomes is to try and pin life down. Instead, ground yourself in this moment, in doing what you can do, and enjoy the gap.

It’s actually a fantastic place to live.



Jettison Self-Doubt and Lose the Itty-Bitty-Shitty Committee and Make Your Thing Now

From the national best-selling author of The Woman’s Comfort Book and Why Bother.

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