by Ali Valdez, Pathwise Member and Contributor
After a decade as a successful sales leader in high tech, I shocked everyone by announcing that I was going to do the unthinkable: I was quitting high tech for six months to write a book.
“What about all the money?”
“Why? You’re at the top of your game.”
I lived in a million-dollar house on the water with breathtaking views, traveled the world on a corporate account, and lived a materialistically enviable life. There was so much to be grateful for without a doubt. My co-workers were like a chorus in a Greek tragedy. Prada-donning doom prophets.
As for novel writing, I kept my same routine. We all tend to be creatures of habit, slaves to our own stillborn inertia. After all, writing is a lot of time on a computer. It’s a sedentary gig, one of equally long hours. The book idea required an extensive synopsis, a skeleton, an outline of chapters. I approached it like I managed my business. My comfort zone was in maintaining control, having a plan then executing against it.
From 9am to 2pm, I sat at the computer producing a minimal output of twenty-five fully written pages. A break at two for lunch, followed by an edit, and then a late afternoon tea while I read my day’s work aloud. I’d do final corrections by 5:00pm, then off to the gym. I could have a completed work for second round edits in less than two months. Within six months, I could go back and return as a VP of Sales. I could have my cake AND eat it too.
It didn’t exactly feel forced, but it didn’t feel freeing either. There was a pressure to produce and stay laser focused. I didn’t seek what was sacred about the process: namely embracing the flow. I sought tangible results. My ego wanted a book deal.
But book-writing is a creative process, and as I soon learned to connect to flow, it felt more like engaging in play. Flow is soul work; upper middle management need not apply.
If you want to enjoy any creative process, you must quickly learn that flow is fanciful and light to the touch, wishing to dance about like garments on an alluring mistress; burgundy silk brushing fleeting and soft on your skin, not a scratchy graze of the stolid burlap apron hung heavy ’round the village wet nurse’s waist.
One day, while listening to NPR, I heard an interview with a writer. She explained the power of her daemon. To the Greeks, this is the inner-voice, the intermediary of imagination between God and man. That was all I needed to hear. As she told it, when the inspiration comes, you have to chase it like a whisper blowing through a wheat field. That is the story of flow. How often do we get so caught up in the noise of our daily lives, we fail to hear its sound?
Consider that metaphor my seduction, the silk brushing against my knuckles. My writing of my book was never the same. Instead of going into my office at 9am, I went out and meditated in the sun. Like the analogy of the wheat field, never underestimate the inspirational gifts that await you in nature, solitude, and silence.
I learned when you take a moment to sit still and attend inward, different music begins to play from the chorus. Instead of devolving towards an Aeschylean denouement foretold by my peers, inspiration finally found its footing and gently took hold. Receptive, I barely needed its nudge.
I gave it breathing room; within minutes, its whisper expanded into song.
Acquiescent, I became a willing servant to its whims, indulging and delighting in winnowing the grain of the storyline. Characters too began coming to life, through the art of removing the husk of pragmatic thinking and the linear objectives of goal-setting. Like the author chasing her whisper, my hand began gliding over the surface of the keyboard like the breeze whistling through the fields.
It was as if I was writing, and they were legitimately my words but expressed beyond the confines of my thinking mind. I’m not sure I can fully express the joy of communing with flow during this special period of my life. The book required no work. This was a wholly new paradigm for me. Flow is an inexhaustible force. For days, it steadily outpaced me, eclipsing my ego at the end of every day; yet as if intoxicated, I kept in eager pursuit of its limitless possibilities.
I began taking naps, going for longer walks, sitting in my chair and penning hand-written notes to friends; not just creating space but tending to it. Flow wants a green juice: flow gets it. Flow wants a weekend getaway with friends: bags get packed. Honor flow and it will generously respond in kind. Ignore the gentle whisper, and you are like a radio missing its frequency. These are the lessons I learned.
My novel’s once disjointed elements, fumbling about anachronistic and uninspired, began weaving a tapestry that no fibers of synopsis and skeleton could ever loom. Ideas and subplots that seemed frayed found their synecdoche, singularities tying together and completing the whole.
It was happening! I was finally writing!
As I afforded this process greater dominion, my story revealed itself faster, and ironically, with greater precision. Twenty-five pages handily became fifty pages. I was unstoppable. Indomitable.
One afternoon, I moved out of office mode altogether and began working from my dining room table. Don’t ask me why; I had no idea.
From my seat, I could see all of Seattle, Mt Rainier to the Olympics, with Lake Washington the only thing between us. After a healthy start at writing, magic happened. I was no longer chasing; I was communing. Three days flew by as if time had singularly stopped and simultaneously kept moving at lightning speed. The ending of my story came from a place that both broke my heart and lovingly rebuilt it. We moved together, two as one. There was no space between my breath and a punctuation on the page. And then, like that, the air grew still. I realized the daemon’s job was done; the work was completed.
I walked over to the couch like an old man after days of sitting and plopped down on the couch just as the sun was rising. I said thank you to God for this incredible journey and smiled. I can still remember what I said aloud as the room filled with light: if I were to die right now, I will have fully lived my life.
The book brought gasps, tears, and literally took the breath away from the few that read my first draft. Then the dust began to settle. You see, I was recruited and took another great role and had a second successful career in high tech sales. At work, I was much happier, more creative, and had a more meaningful impact. Daemon travels in a briefcase when you need it to.
People ask me if I ever got my book published. I say no. They ask why. I say, I never thought to submit it for publication. It brings in the critical eye that was not the true purpose of taking this journey. Editors, agents, publishers, none of those people mattered. Scoring a book deal didn’t matter. The masterpiece was the magic of the experience, not the tangible result I once coveted.
Incidentally, the book was completed two years before the birth of my daughter. The soul of a child is a daemon of another type, birthed from a stronger breeze, whispering a sharper tune, in a different kind of field. This masterpiece, my pearl, composed of new music, this time shaped by the wind through a field of flowers. Now, I am complete and I truly understand what matters.