Why Everyone and His or Her Mother Should Do Write or Die
I know failure. I know what it feels like to want to do something and to not do it. I know what taking the easier road looks like, the road more travelled. I also know what it is like to be the child of a parent who spent nearly an entire lifetime refusing the call of her own brightest light.
I know the press of yearning, the feeling of not enough, the fear of is this is all there is?
I also know what it is to be at an opening of your film at film festivals and to have audiences loudly applaud your work. I know what it’s like to have people say your book changed their life. But what I have seen is things other people might mark as successes are fleeting, and these moments, these things are like cotton candy: they dissolve and leave you wanting more or wanting something else, and too much can leave you feeling sick, off-balance. What I have seen is it’s not about what you did when people are applauding or booing—that project is done—it’s about what are you doing now? The blood in your body doesn’t stop to talk about the places it has been—it keeps moving because it is vital, because it is so fully experiencing what it means to be alive.
I also, of course, know what if feels like to have people tell you that you are garbage because they hate what you write. I’d rather be garbage that gave it my all than some critic who never wrote anything but hate mail. I know what it’s like to search for one good review of your film and struggle to find one. But I really don’t care about bad reviews that much. Because you know what? It’s hard to write a movie, and the fact is that I co-wrote one and it got made and it won Best Picture at The New York International Film Festival. I don’t care about the half a tomato or whatever Phantom Halo has earned on Rotten Tomatoes. I did it. I co-write a movie that showed at the Austin Film Festival. I never said I wanted to write a great movie. I said I wanted to write a movie, and I did it!!
Failure is not trying. Failure is living in fear. Bad reviews are noise, celebratory farts singing better luck next time.
I think the combination of teaching at the college level for over fifteen years and doing deep-tissue massage for even longer has made me particularly aware of how and perhaps why people carry the untold dreams and stories in their heads and bodies. I can see them, the people, their dreams. I can feel them. Untold dreams and stories drive me insane. They are like visible splinters and I want them OUT for the sake of the person carrying them, for the sake of everyone in this person’s life, and for the world in general. The world celebrates stars more than it celebrates things that stay hidden in the dark.
We are clever, we humans, and we can live lives that look full of wonder and magic, when the ground floor is full of depression and dread. These are the kind of things I look for: the things that are killing your spirit.
I went to graduate school to get a Masters in Fine Arts after finishing college, and, oh!, the thrill of walking the streets of Eugene, thinking I’m a writer. It was amazing. I had an identity I was proud of, one that my mother was proud of! I had permission to be alive. I had earned my right to be a person. I had a purpose!
For two years I sat with other people in my class and talked and talked and talked about writing. Some of us—I—talked much more than we—I—wrote. Talking about writing was a way of not writing, of staying safe. If I didn’t throw my whole self into the effort, then I still had hope. Talking more than actually writing was a way of feeling in control: for what if I really, really tried, what if I put my whole being into a story or a novel and found I could not do it, or what if I did finish a something, and then it was met with silence or disdain?
I was either a great writer or I was…nothing. There wasn’t a middle road. There was either yes or no, so I created a road of maybe, and I found a way to travel that road for decades. It was called, Dream about being a writer; dream about feeling you are living at the edges of your abilities; dream you are living the life the universe intended for you; dream but don’t do. Stay safe. Swim laps. Keep your house clean. Be a good daughter. Be a good mom. Be a not so great wife twice.
I might have been a better wife if I’d been more myself. I would have been more vocal, more truthfully vocal. Maybe the relationships wouldn’t have survived the first date.
That’s one reason not to live fully as yourself: all the people you might end up losing either because you finally realize you don’t like them or because they can’t tolerate your bigger self. Neither sounds like all that much of a loss, so, really, this is one reason to live fully as yourself: the quality of your relationships will also be fuller, more real, more like food and less like a day at the office.
I developed Write or Die because I have figured out ways to use writing exercises to get people to strip away what is fake in the stories they tell themselves, what is fake in their lives. You know how fish tanks can get murky, the glass and water dirty, hard to see through? Write or Die cleans the fish tank of you so you can see yourself, your core beliefs, your dreams more clearly, so you can remember who you are and what it is you want to do with this one wild life you were given.
Write or Die takes about 75 minutes. I do them in small groups, but mostly these days I do them over the phone, one-on-one. I charge $150. If you are part of a group the process takes about three hours, and it’s $150 a person. If someone had done this class for me when I was 20, I might have saved myself tens of thousands of dollars chasing things that weren’t actually addressing the core issues of Why am I not doing the one thing I say I want to do? Why am I not writing a book? What is in my way? What do I need to get started? To finish?
Write or Die isn’t just for writers. I just use writing to get to your dreams. People have left spouses after our call. They have gone on to write screenplays, plays. They have started to collage. To paint. To draw. To exercise. To cook. They have cut off friends and made new ones.
Write or Die is so personal that I don’t advertise it much because I treat it like AA—what happens in Write or Die stays in Write or Die. I want people to feel free to say anythingand not worry that I’m going to turn around and talk about what we did together to others. Write or Die is sacred to me.
But here is one review by Brian, a designer I worked with recently, just to give you an idea of how you might feel when we are done. I didn’t pay him to write this. I just asked him to write what he got out of our call:
I can say without qualification that Anne is brilliant. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to write, but I’ve always been very adept at inventing reasons why I couldn’t, or shouldn’t. Anne immediately reduced the process to its basic elements. A writer. A story. A reader. And in doing so, she helped me eliminate all the “noise” that held me back. It was like a curtain lifting. Anne’s approach is elegantly simple, but there is nothing formulaic or “one size fits all” about it. It was immediately apparent that she was going to connect with me as an individual, and our session reflected that. Anne is insightful, compassionate, and damn funny! I recognize not that I used to want to have written. Now I want to write.
Many people need the jumpstart of one call and then they are good to go. Some people want to keep me on as a writing coach, and so then we work together until they feel ready to break off and work on their own. I charge $125 an hour.
I’ve written this many times, but here I go again: my mom died before she finished her first book. She died before Yale University Press published it. She died before she read the glowing review on the cover of The New York Times Book Review. She died before her book was positively reviewed in her beloved New Yorker. I feel driven to push you to chase your dreams while you are still alive because it’s so stupid to die without having played the cards you love the most.
I am the one who will push you off the cliff of you, because seeing you fly is my greatest joy.
Icarus’s father warned him not to fly too close to the sun, but he also warned him not to fly too close to the water. There is a middle ground, a place of wonder and freedom. Let’s meet there.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or want to set up an appointment.