So I call my people—my students, my clients—the “Hearts with Brains.” I will explain. But first let me tell you how I finally found them:
I started my writing workshops in Brooklyn back in 2003, on a whim, after I moved into a more-expensive apartment and needed to figure out how to cover the rent. It was an innocent beginning—I had no idea where it would lead. Putting myself out there like this was a big leap for me to take: I’m shy, and I’d really rather hide in the house than have a whole lot of conversations with strangers on the phone about how I can help them write a book.
And I had no idea who would come, or if anyone would come at all. I had no marketing background, absolutely no understanding of how to run a business. I was a writer! I knew all about creativity! I even had a masters degree in actual Creativity. Yes. I got it in San Francisco. So I had no way of knowing what an amazing thing would happen: that through a little Craigslist ad (and a few flyers in Park Slope) I would find my people.
What I wrote in the very first Craigslist ad was that my classes would be fun. That they were based in intuition, not criticism. That you have to engage the creativity part, the right brain that is not practical or logical or ego-driven, in order to get to the good stuff. That, in class, once we got on a roll with that, we would be using really amazing, effective, practical editorial tools so that you didn’t delude yourself into proudly presenting the world with its longest most annoying millennial beat poem.
I wrote that we are obsessed, as a culture, with the left brain. With what is achievement-oriented and seems productive and unassailably logical and smart and strategic and rational and presentable. And that this insane chokehold of achieving and planning and safety and control is death to the juicy delicious moments of having your writing pour through you and onto the page.
My people get this. My people struggle with this. I struggle with it. Daily. Are you kidding me? I pretty much had to take a year off from my life because my workaholism got out of control. I have had to “let go and let god,” and do any number of other appalling but effective things to deal with my own addiction to work, achievement, and to-do lists.
I am happy to report I’ve healed and am confident that I won’t ever burn out in quite so universal a way again. Work addiction looks to me now like what it is: a death sentence. That wasn’t true before—I was so in it I couldn’t even see it. But now—I get it: rest is the most important thing, just like not drinking is the most important thing for an alcoholic.
My own heart wanted rest so badly it commandeered my body into rebellion. My brain—up until the point where I was so exhausted my face was twitching—said: probably three more hours of work after dinner. It even said: who needs to eat dinner?
My own story is one of a heart with brains.
My heart really, really, really wanted to find my people and create all this amazing stuff with them. My brain had no idea about all that, and said: just submit your novel to publishers and hope something works out and you end up something like Zadie Smith. But my heart knew: literary cocktail parties are not my scene. Not remotely. Even if they’re kind of “indie.” The whole thing is too based in criticism, posturing, one-upsmanship, I’d generally rather go huff some glue.
My heart knew there was no “literary community” out there that was what I really needed. My heart knew we’d already looked for that in many, many workshops and universities and readings and conferences.
My heart knew: a class by my own design in my living room, with snacks and hilarity and amazing effectiveness was going to be way better than teaching at a university. My heart knew: just writing, that is, sitting alone listening to the imaginary people at the computer all day, this is not enough for me. It knew: just writing is too solitary. The computer is too devoid of shape and voice and movement and spirit to be the person I spend my working days with.
My heart knew what would really do the trick: facilitating the incredible, jaw-dropping writing that can happen in just ten minutes of writing practice in my group, and doing this for my people. Group creativity, in a politely anarchist, juicy, yet comfortable and in no way invasive hippie-commune terrifying and lame way, with a structure that works: that’s what my classes entail. YEAH. That’s what my heart wanted. Can anyone see my heart puffing out a big wave of glowiness right now as I type?
I call my writers the “hearts with brains.”
My writers are quick-brained and super smart, with big open hearts (well, they are open by nature, and then again once we clear away a lot of the debris and fear that tends to accumulate around creativity.) My hearts with brains are often full of self-doubt. (Seth Godin says in Linchpin that you know you’re onto the right thing you’re really supposed to do because you’ll be overloaded with doubt and resistance, i.e., it’s the ONLY sign you’re onto the right thing. )
All writers are full of self-doubt—it is one of the most confronting, terrifying things you can do.
My people, my hearts with brains, are highly sensitive, intuitive, often ADD, and often have a hard time doing all the earth things like money and self-care and normal jobs and normal sentence structure.
My hearts with brains tend to feel everything in the room.
You see: we are talking about big BIG hearts and often achingly fast brains. And the more empathetic you are, the quicker your brain is, the more sides you can see any question from. This is why a big fast brain can be so crippling.
The same brains that make my people so smart, also make it so easy to get tangled in thinking and doubt and worry and strategy and logic and planning and “reasonableness” and not get the writing done. Big brains can really keep you from leaping into the unknown. From soaring into the stratosphere.
Which is where your heart wants you to go.
Which is where the writing is easy and just pulls you along for the ride. Which is where things like curiosity, and peace, and flow, and love, and splashing in the puddles live.
Your heart knows where to find your unleashed creativity, puttering along sometimes, flying across the sky at others.
My hearts with brains students are often full of doubt because they are full of revolution. They are onto something so amazing, so huge, so full of power and change, that their resistance often freezes them up. It is such a gift for me to be able to work with people like this.
I get to provide simple tools that the HwB’s can take with them that will keep them from getting so frozen ever again. What a privilege! I get to see them step into their brilliance within five minutes of the first writing exercise, and keep expanding their creative turf week after week after week. It is a miracle, and it is everything to me.
My whole life aligned with the miracle of what my work became, and everything got a lot richer, more beautiful, more thrilling, more tender.
So that’s what my heart brought me. More than my own brain could ever have dreamed.
My heart worked via what looked like roadblocks. There was no other way to get me off of my crazy, determined, superhighway to what I thought needed to happen. Something else, entirely more dazzling, more nurturing, more exciting, more real, was born.
What does your heart want for you? And what interference is your gigantic logical brain offering up? Where’s the risk? Where’s the soaring? There’s your heart.
Are you one? Hearts with brains:
are super intuitive
and often ADD
especially love procrastination-induced adrenaline surges as motivation to get things done
are sometimes shy
but sometimes big loudie-louds, we love you
are smart as hell
hearts with brains’ natural inclination is to assume anything they’re writing is WRONG
They: see what’s at the bookstore and think I COULD DO BETTER
tend to get energy-sucked by energetic vampires who have a taste for sweethearts
often avoid conflict to the extreme
can feel it when a book is magic
and also when a book is bullshit.
Same goes for people.